LEARNING HOW CHEMO AFFECTS HAIR LOSS CAN HELP YOU FIND YOUR SOLUTION WHILE YOU RECOVER.
Hair loss from cancer treatment can be especially traumatic, but understanding why and how it happens may ease your fears just a little bit.
Q. Why does “chemo” cause hair loss?
A. Chemotherapy drugs shock rapidly dividing cells such as those in hair follicles in the scalp, thereby causing the hair to completely fall out temporarily.
Q. How will I know if I will lose my hair or how my appearance will be affected?
A. The only way to know for sure is to ask your doctor. Since every patient has a different drug mixture, or “cocktail,” side effects are very personal. Some chemotherapy drugs cause hair fall-out, while some don’t, and other cancer treatments can cause rashes, puffiness, mouth sores, burns and weight fluctuations.
Q. Will the hair loss hurt?
A. The hair fall-out is definitely emotionally shocking, but many people also experience hypersensitivity in the scalp along with burning and itching while the hair is falling out and also once it is shaved. Once hair fall-out is complete, however, the smooth scalp won’t be uncomfortable anymore.
Q. How long will it take before my hair starts to fall out?
A. Typically hair fall-out begins around the third week of chemotherapy treatment and continues to fall out in large chunks until hair fall-out is complete, a few months later.
Q. If I have long hair, what’s the best way to cope with the hair loss while it is happening?
A. Gradually cut your hair shorter and shorter, in stages you can handle, so you are not shocked by the shape of your head once hair fall-out is complete.
Q. How do I know when to just shave the remaining hair off?
A. When the hair loss is fuzzy and uneven, it’s time to shave it all off. Be sure to use the shave guard so it doesn’t end up too short, which can be painful to your scalp. It’s best to have this done by a professional hairstylist or hair loss professional.
Q. How do I get a wig that looks like “me”?
A. The best time to get a wig designed or custom-made is to go before you experience any hair fall-out. This way your exact hair style, texture and color can be matched to the way they are now — before you start chemo. Then the wig will be ready whenever you need it.
Q. Will insurance pay for my wig?
A. If your insurance covers prosthetics, it may also cover a “cranial prosthesis,” which is the term for a medically necessary wig. Check with your insurance company about your specific benefits. You will also need a diagnosis and prescription for a cranial prosthesis from your doctor to submit to your insurance company.
Q. How can I find a professional hair replacement expert in my area to help me?
A. Relying on a professional to guide you through hair loss and hair replacement can be a relief when you are not feeling well. See if any hair replacement studios near you are involved in a new program called Recover with Confidence (www.recoverwithconfidence.com) and definitely ask any hairstylists about their experience with cancer patients.
Q. What’s “chemo curl”?
A. Once the hair follicles have been shocked by the chemo drugs, hair can temporarily grow back abnormally, resulting in a different texture and/or color. But hair growth normalizes after a few months; therefore, the chemo curl will just grow out and you can trim it off.
Q. Are there any cancer programs that can help me with my hair?
A. Yes. You can get beauty tips, hair loss and wig help, and a free makeup kit in a group setting through the American Cancer Society’s Look Good … Feel Better program. Go to www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org to find the free program that is nearest to you.