As conversations turn to cancer prevention, treatment and research during Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, Hair Club is offering advice and understanding to educate patients on the cosmetic side effects of cancer treatment.
While the threat of hair loss as a result of chemotherapy or radiation is widely understood, many patients facing the reality of treatment are left with a number of questions as to what to expect and how best to cope.
Below, transplant physician and dermatologist, Jeff Donovan, M.D., along with expert Hair Club stylist Donald Arditi, offer background and advice to help those battling cancer better understand and address the cosmetic side effects.
Do all cancer treatments cause hair loss? Why? As most people know, many traditional cancer treatments, namely chemotherapy and radiation therapy, have the potential to cause hair loss. That’s because chemotherapy targets actively growing cells in the body – cancer cells and other cells, including hair follicles.
How many patients experience hair loss as a result? Overall, about 65 percent of patients receiving chemotherapy experience some level of hair loss. While not all chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss, the likelihood is greater among patients receiving two or more drugs versus those receiving only a single drug. It all depends on the type of treatment and amount of chemotherapy or radiation used.
Is hair loss due to cancer treatment always temporary or is it sometimes permanent? Hair loss after chemotherapy typically begins within one to three weeks and is complete within one to two months. The hair grows back usually within four months. In rare situations, patients may not fully regain the same hair density as they had before cancer treatment. This phenomenon is known as permanent chemotherapy induced alopecia (PCIA). Certain drugs and treatments are more likely to cause PCIA than others. For instance, radiation to the brain has been known to sometimes cause permanent loss.
Does the hair grow back differently? The new, re-growing hair may be a different texture and may even be a different color (especially grey). It’s not uncommon for the hair to be curlier than it was before chemotherapy. Most of the time however, the hair returns to its normal texture and color.
Is there anything one can do to prevent or counter the hair loss? Cryotherapy or scalp cooling can sometimes be used to reduce the chance of developing hair loss. Scalp cooling is not used for all patients undergoing chemotherapy, but rather for patients receiving specific medications or fighting specific cancers. Topical minoxidil can also reduce the total number of weeks that a patient will experience hair loss after chemotherapy and will speed up the rate of hair growth following cancer therapies.
Aside from medical treatments, what are some easy ways to disguise and care for thinning hair? Be gentle. Dry your hair with your hands and fingers, minimize using high heat settings on the blow-dryer, and avoid using a brush when blow-drying. Use a diffuser instead to create fullness when drying. The less tension you put on your hair, the less risk of premature breakage or damage.
What products are best for thinning hair? Minimize the use of waxes, gels, creams and pastes. A lot of these products will weigh your hair down, making it oily and revealing thin areas. A light styling product that creates volume in the hair, like a volumizing mousse, is best. Volumizing shampoos and conditioners are also highly recommended. To keep hair strong and clear of buildup, one may opt for a clarifying shampoo and protein treatment, but only once a week at most.
What should stylists know? First, inform any stylists ahead of time about your health situation and treatment, so they can be proactive and start handling your hair with precautionary measures as early as possible. Avoid chemical services, such as permanent color treatments, perms, and straighteners, which can lead to premature breakage and hair loss. Request gentle, alcohol-free cleansers and conditioners, and opt for air-drying instead of high-heat dryers. In terms of your cut, a shorter style tends to make hair look thicker and fuller.
For further information or to connect with a restoration specialist, please visit www.hairclub.com.