BY CATHERINE NGUYEN
Not all chemo treatments cause hair loss, but some can make people lose some or all of their hair. How much you lose depends on the drug, the dose, and the frequency of the treatment. Hair usually starts growing back after the treatment ends, and can take up to a year to grow back completely.
Eileen Posner, a cancer survivor who lost all her hair during her cancer treatment, noticed some growth six weeks after undergoing her final chemo session, and went on to have a full head of hair by the end of the year.
Caring for your hair
It is recommended that you are gentle with your hair before, during and after your cancer treatment. This typically includes
- Washing your hair gently and only as often as needed
- Using a mild and fragrance-free shampoo. If your hair tangles, a gentle conditioner or detangler spray may help.
- Patting your hair dry with a soft towel
- Styling your hair with a wide-toothed comb or a hairbrush with soft bristles. Avoid using hair dryers, irons and products such as gels, permanent or semi-permanent hair color.
- Sleeping on a soft, smooth pillowcase made from fabric such as polycotton, cotton sateen or bamboo.
- When going outdoors, protect your scalp from the sun with sunscreen, a scarf or hat
A friend of mine who suffered hair loss during her cancer treatment, has a simple advice. She says she thought of her hair like that of a baby’s during her battle. If something should not be done to a baby’s hair, she will not do it to her own.
Managing hair regrowth
As your hair grows back, you may notice some differences. It may be curlier, thicker or finer than it was before treatment, or of a different colour. The process takes time and your hair may not look or feel normal for a while.
According to Laura Price, a cancer survivor, “your hair doesn’t grow back all perfect and sexy after chemo – far from it”. She says “Your barnet grows back unevenly, at varying speeds. The hair on the crown is often the last bit to grow so you may, like me, look like you have a hugely receding hairline for a couple of months with random sprouts of dark hair at the back and sides.”
The Cancer Council suggests asking your hairdresser to help you manage thinning hair and hair care during regrowth. Different styling could help to give the appearance of thicker hair, and hairpieces can also help cover partial hair loss.
Seek advice from a professional about how soon after treatment you can colour your regrown hair and the colours or products that may be suitable for you. If your scalp is sensitive, your hairdresser may be able to recommend henna or vegetable-based dyes that may be gentler on the hair and scalp than chemical hair treatments.
Your new hair will be fragile initially and so it is important to continue the gentle hair care. Hair growth takes time and it also takes time to repair the damage caused by your cancer treatment, so please be patient.
Help is at hand
Look Good Feel Better is a national community service program run by the Cancer Patients Foundation, dedicated to teaching cancer patients how to manage the appearance-related side-effects caused by cancer treatment. Women, men and teens participate in practical workshop demonstrations covering skin care, make-up and head wear.
Look Good Feel Better workshops are held regularly in metropolitan and some regional areas. Call the Look Good Feel Better national office on 1800 650 960 for information or visit the website to register.
Catherine has been volunteering with Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre since 2017, and joined Solaris Cancer Care as a blog writer in early August 2020. She lost both her father and her husband to cancer, and the experiences changed her life. Catherine developed a passion for researching all matters relating to cancer during her husband’s fight, and is keen to continue building on her knowledge and using it to help others.