Hair loss, also known as “alopecia”, occurs because the chemotherapy treatment affects the rapidly dividing cells in the hair follicle. As a result, patients will lose most of their body hair. Areas affected will likely include the scalp, face, chest, arms, legs and pubic area.
What to Expect
Hair loss may be a difficult side effect to adjust to. It is a temporary side effect, with some exceptions. Hair loss usually begins several days to a few weeks after chemotherapy has started. At this time, most people notice a few more strands of hair on their pillow than usual. Once hair loss has begun, it will continue in a steady process. Similarly, when regrowth begins, new hair will appear at a gradual, steady rate. Hair should begin to grow back several weeks to a few months after chemotherapy has ended. It is quite common for the new hair to be a different colour and texture.
Because hair loss is a gradual process, some people decide to cut their hair short or shave their head if they find the loose strands a nuisance. Shampooing, brushing or combing will usually increase the rate of hair loss.
Although hair loss can't be prevented, there are many options to consider. Many people find that a stretchy cloth cap, scarves, baseball cap, hat, or wig can be helpful during the period of hair loss. Some people arrange to purchase these items prior to coming to the hospital so they will be available when needed. Information about financial support for the purchase of a wig is available from the Canadian Cancer Society. Not everyone chooses to cover temporary baldness. Whatever you choose, it's important that you decide what feels right for you.