Living with cancer

Managing hair loss (alopecia)

Hair loss or alopecia occurs as a result of some cancer treatments.  It is most often associated with chemotherapy but can also be a side effect of radiotherapy. Not all treatment for cancer will cause hair loss and most hair loss is not permanent.  You can ask your healthcare team if your treatment is likely to cause hair loss so that you can prepare for it.

Chemotherapy related hair loss will usually begin 10-14 days following the first treatment.  For some people hair may just thin but other people may experience complete hair loss.

You may also lose other hair for example eyebrows and eyelashes, and body hair depending on your chemotherapy schedule.

Some cancer treatment centres offer a procedure called scalp cooling to try and prevent chemotherapy related hair loss.  Scalp cooling is more likely to work with some chemotherapy drugs and doses than others and not all hospitals are able to offer it.  If you are interested in scalp cooling, ask your healthcare team about whether it is available, and whether it would be suitable for you.

In most cases your hair will grow back, sometimes even starting to grow before your treatment has ended.  Often the texture and colour of your new hair will be slightly different than before.

Radiotherapy causes hair loss only where the radiotherapy beams enter and leave your body. Your hair is likely to grow back after radiotherapy, although it depends n how much radiotherapy you have.


How can I manage hair loss

Most  people find the process of hair loss distressing, especially if clumps of hair are coming away whenever they brush or shampoo. You may choose to have your hair cut short or shaved so that you have some control over the process.

Many people choose to cope with hair loss by wearing a wig.  A good range of synthetic wigs are available free on the NHS and your health care team will advise you about stockists.

If you do plan to wear a wig visiting stockists before you lose your hair will help you find a match for your natural hair.  However you may also choose a wig that is completely different to your own hair. The wig stockist or your hairdresser will be able to advise you on styling  and caring for your wig.

Natural wigs are not usually available on the NHS unless you are allergic to synthetic wigs.  If you do wish to buy a wig privately you can get them form wig departments in department stores or from specialist wig suppliers.  There is also a network of wig banks around the UK that offer reconditioned wigs for sale and hire.

If you would prefer not to wear a wig, or would like an alternative to change with, a good range of hats, scarves, headwraps, headbuffs and turbans are available. These are widely available in department stores or online.

Most Maggie's Centres offer Talking heads sessions and Look Good Feel Better Workshops

Talking heads brings together people dealing with hair loss, to share experiences and learn different ways of managing.

Look Good Feel Better Workshops offer skincare and beauty advice to boost confidence and body image during or soon after cancer treatment.

If your treatment is likely to cause complete hair loss:

•    Consider cutting your hair short before your treatment starts

•    Ask about scalp cooling if you are interested

•    Obtain wig coverings like hast, scarves or wigs

•    Avoid exposing your head to strong sunlight or cold weather

•    Avoid using unproven remedies that promise hair growth or prevention of hair loss (check these with your healthcare team)

If your treatment is likely to cause gradual hair thinning:

•    Use mild shampoos

•    Use soft hairbrushes and low heat settings when using a hairdryer

•    Sleep on a satin pillowcase to minimise hair tangling

•    Avoid using hair colour or hair dyes or having a perm

•    Avoid rollers, tongs hair straighteners or using hair-dryers on the hot setting

•    Avoid using unproven remedies that promise hair regrowth or prevention of hairloss ( check these with you healthcare team)

Hairloss has often been a sign to the outside world that a person has cancer.  Experiencing hairloss is a deeply personal and upsetting experience for many people.

You can be an active partner by:

Talking to your healthcare team or Maggie’s team about ways of managing  any hair loss you experience during cancer treatment.

Talking to others with similar experience – you could post in a conversation  at Maggie's Online Centre and ask others about their experiences or drop into our physical Centres and find out more about  our workshops and meet others face to face.