Cancer and hair loss

Hair loss is a common side effect of treatments used to fight various cancers. Beyond the disease, the psychological impact of this hair loss can be significant and a source of fear or distress for the people affected. Simple habits and adapted care can be applied to accompany hair loss and regrowth.



Why do you lose your hair during cancer?

Cancer and hair loss: the side effect most dreaded by patients. The various treatments prescribed to fight cancer often have an impact on the hair:

  • Chemotherapy: the objective of this treatment is to destroy the cancerous cells which have the particularity of multiplying very quickly. Unfortunately, this is a feature they share with the cells of the hair follicle and so they too are destroyed by the drugs used. This triggers an abrupt stop in the hair growth phase (anagen phase), followed by rapid hair loss over most of the scalp: this is called anagen effluvium. The extent of the hair loss is explained by the fact that 80% of the hair on the scalp is in the growth phase and is therefore affected by the treatment at the same time. Hair loss during chemotherapy usually begins 1 to 3 weeks after the first session and progresses into total alopecia after 1 or 2 months. It is sometimes accompanied by scalp hypersensitivity and itching or tingling as the hair falls out. The same phenomenon of hair loss can also be observed in the eyelashes and eyebrows, shortly after the hair. This hair loss is reversible once chemotherapy sessions are stopped and the hair grows back within 6 months for most patients, sometimes with a different texture. It is important to note that the onset and intensity of the hair loss depend on the chemotherapy molecule used and the doses administered.
  • Radiotherapy: the objective of this treatment is to irradiate cancer cells. When radiation is administered to the head and neck, hair loss after radiotherapy can be a common side effect. The amount of hair lost and whether or not it will regrow depend on the area irradiated and the dose received. Small doses of radiation are usually associated with temporary hair loss. Higher doses, however, can lead to permanent alopecia.
  • Hormone therapy: the objective of this treatment is to act on hormones in order to slow down or stop the growth of cancer cells that are sensitive to these hormones. The hair life cycle being sensitive to hormonal variations, certain treatments used induce or aggravate types of alopecia such as androgenetic alopecia. Hormone therapy is only prescribed for certain types of cancer (e.g., breast and prostate)
  • Targeted therapies and immunotherapies: these innovative treatments have more complex and targeted mechanisms of action, but some molecules can also be responsible for hair loss.

What to do to overcome hair loss due to cancer

Beyond the diagnosis and the symptoms of cancer, hair loss is often difficult to live with. It affects self-image, one’s sense of femininity in women, makes the disease visible to others and is also a constant and daily reminder of its presence. Simple habits can be put in place on a daily basis to better manage this ordeal and take care of hair loss during cancer:

  • Wash your hair gently. Use a mild shampoo adapted to fragile hair, as soon as treatment begins. An anti-hair loss shampoo can be used to support regrowth. For chemotherapy, we recommend washing your hair the day before a session and then not washing it again for three to seven days afterwards.
  • Avoid damage. It is important not to further damage the hair and scalp already weakened by the treatments: dry your hair without rubbing it too hard or avoid hair dryers, straightening or curling irons, coloring, perms or curlers, etc.
  • Take care of your scalp When your hair has fallen out, protecting the exposed scalp from external aggressions is essential (protection against the sun, pollution, cold, wind, etc.). Daily application of a moisturizing cream, lotion or serum also helps to soothe the scalp hypersensitivity that often accompanies hair loss.
  • Maintain and adapt your hairstyle. Limit braiding as well as the use of hair accessories that can damage the hair (barrettes, clips, bands, etc.). Do not hesitate to consult an aesthetic therapist/clinical cosmetologist: someone specifically trained to help with cancer-related hair loss and wearing head scarves, wigs, eyebrow makeup, etc.
  • Stimulate regrowth. After treatment ends, a combination of applying a stimulating anti-hair loss lotion and taking a food supplement stimulates regrowth and provides the necessary nutrients for healthy hair.
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