How you can deal with hair loss during cancer treatment
Hair loss during cancer treatment is one of the frequent and very upsetting side effects. One of the most challenging components of therapy for many patients is hair loss.
While some people lose all of their hair, others just experience slight thinning. The entire body might experience hair loss. If you do lose hair during treatment, it will nearly always come back. The color or structure of your hair may change as it grows back, though. Someone who had straight hair before the treatment can discover that they now have curly hair.
During your treatment, you may be able to use haircuts to hide hair loss or to make the hair you have left look its best. You may want to wear scarves and hats. Wigs or hairpieces also are an option. Or you may feel more comfortable leaving your head uncovered. Some people switch back and forth, depending on whether they are in public or at home with friends and family members.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It’s also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
How can you care for yourself at home?
- Take good care of your scalp and the hair you have. Use a mild shampoo and a soft hairbrush.
- Air-dry your hair. If you have to use a hair dryer, use the low-heat setting.
- Think about cutting your hair short. A shorter style will make your hair look thicker and fuller. It also will make hair loss easier to manage if it occurs. But do not shave your head while your platelet and white blood cell counts are low. Low platelet and white blood cell counts can increase the risk of bleeding or infection if you cut or nick your head while shaving.
- Sleep on a satin pillowcase. This will reduce friction on your scalp.
- Do not use brush rollers to set your hair.
- Do not dye your hair or get a permanent while you are taking chemotherapy or if you are getting radiation to your scalp.
- Use sunscreen or a hat, scarf, or wig to protect your scalp from the sun.
- If you choose a wig or hairpiece:
- Shop for your wig or hairpiece before you lose a lot of hair so that you can match your natural colour, texture, and style. You may be able to buy a wig or hairpiece at a specialty shop just for people with cancer. Often a salesperson will come to your home to help you. For more information, contact your local chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society or call the Canadian Cancer Society toll-free at 1-888-939-3333.
- You may prefer to borrow rather than buy a wig or hairpiece. If so, call your local Canadian Cancer Society chapter or check with the social work department at your treatment centre.
- Remember that a hairpiece needed because of cancer treatment may be at least partially covered by your provincial health plan or private health insurance.