- Question from WW: I just had my first chemo treatment, and my hair is starting to fall out. Is there anything that can slow down the loss? I don't think I can cope with total hair loss AND treatment.
Julie Gralow, M.D.
Hair loss is a common side effect of many chemotherapy agents, and many of them cause complete hair loss. However, the hair always grows back again at the end of chemotherapy. My patients have tried all kinds of shampoos and conditioners that purport to help with it, but I don't think I've ever seen one that's made much of a difference.
Some people have tried using ice caps on the scalp, and this might slow down hair loss. But, in general, significant hair loss still occurs. There's also some concern about shutting down blood flow to the scalp, which is what you're doing with the ice. If you happened to have a tumor cell in the scalp area, you could be isolating it from the effects of the chemotherapy. Because of this, some oncologists don't encourage ice caps. And, as I said before, while the caps may slow down hair loss, hair loss still occurs.
Again, remember that this is only a temporary side effect. Lots of times hair comes back thicker and curlier. In general, you'll start seeing some hair growth within a couple of months after the last chemotherapy treatment. Hair follicles are deep inside the scalp, so re-growth isn't visible right away.
Marisa Weiss, M.D.
There have been studies showing that women fear hair loss even more than loss of a breast. Being prepared for this unpleasant side effect of treatment can make a huge difference. This means knowing when your hair is likely to come out. It means getting a wig that you like, as well as alternatives like turbans, a scarf, a baseball cap, or a snuggly hat to wear during the time that you are without hair.
Many women can do very well with a synthetic wig that costs less than $100. I even have patients who have a full assortment of wigs: long, short, black, blonde, etc. They have just decided that they're going to try to have some fun with it. A support group is a good place to find out what the best solutions are, and it's a good place to get support through this tough problem. Hair loss is terrible, but at least it's only temporary.
The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Managing Treatment Side Effects featured Julie Gralow, M.D. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answering your questions about many of the short-term and long-term side effects of breast cancer treatment, and ways of minimizing them, so you can get on with your life and enjoy your day-to-day activities.
Editor's Note: This conference took place in January 2003.
The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.
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