Radiotherapy and hair loss

Radiotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses intense beams of energy to kill cancer cells. When used on the head and neck, it can cause hair loss of varying severity.



Hair loss, a side effect of radiotherapy

Cancer-related hair loss is not just alopecia following chemotherapy. Radiotherapy can also have this same side effect.
What is the link between radiotherapy and hair loss? Radiotherapy damages cells by destroying the genetic material that controls their growth and multiplication. Healthy cells in the surrounding area can sometimes be affected. When radiotherapy is applied to the head and neck, it can affect the hair follicle cells responsible for hair formation and cause alopecia. In contrast, radiotherapy for breast cancer does not cause hair loss because it is only performed on the chest, away from the scalp.
The amount of hair loss and hair regrowth depends on the area irradiated and the dose received. Smaller doses of radiation are usually associated with one-time hair loss. Higher doses, however, can lead to permanent alopecia.

What are the preventive measures?

Preventive measures that can be taken to limit hair loss after radiotherapy involve the daily hair care routine:

  • Wash your hair gently. It is preferable to use mild shampoos, adapted to fragile hair, from the beginning of the treatments. Application should be done by gently massaging the scalp with the fingertips.
  • Avoid damage to the hair. It is important not to further damage the hair and scalp already weakened by the treatments: dry the hair without rubbing it too vigorously or avoid using hair dryers, straightening or curling irons, coloring, perms and curlers...
  • Take care of the scalp. When the hair has fallen out, it is essential to protect the exposed scalp from external damage (sun, pollution, cold, wind...). As for the face, you can apply a sun cream when exposed to the sun and a moisturizer every day. This will help soothe the itching that can accompany the wearing of a wig, turban or scarf.

Recovering hair after radiotherapy

When hair loss occurs due to radiotherapy, the hair often grows back within 3 to 6 months after the treatment is completed. With very high doses of radiotherapy, hair may grow back thinner or not at all on the part of the scalp that received the radiation.
When the hair starts to grow back, it should be treated gently and stimulated:

  • Avoid over-brushing, curling and blow-drying;
  • Use an anti-hair loss shampoo with strengthening properties;
  • Apply a stimulating anti-hair loss lotion, preferably by massaging your scalp with your fingertips to activate blood circulation and promote the penetration of the lotion's active ingredients;
  • Combine a food supplement to provide the nutrients necessary for healthy hair growth.

Don't hesitate to ask for advice from the care team and to turn to a socio-aesthetician to obtain all the useful advice you can and overcome this difficult stage.

Hormone therapy and hair

Hair loss from radiotherapy is not the only cause of alopecia during cancer. Hormone therapy prescribed for the treatment of some hormonal cancers can also cause hair loss.
Some cancers use hormones to develop. These are called hormone-dependent cancers, such as breast, prostate, ovarian or uterine cancer.
The objective of hormone therapy is, as its name indicates, to prevent the production of hormones in order to slow down or stop the growth of cancer cells. Since the life cycle of the hair is sensitive to hormonal variations, these treatments induce or aggravate androgenetic alopecia.
Hormone therapy is often prescribed over several years and the hair loss induced by this treatment generally diminishes or stops during the first year.

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