Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Hair loss

The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the type of chemotherapy and the amount given. Anticipating and managing side effects can help to minimize them and provide the best possible experience for the person receiving chemotherapy.

What causes alopecia (hair loss)?
How to manage the hair loss
Will my hair return?

What causes alopecia (hair loss)?

Many chemotherapy agents are designed to kill fast-growing cells, which means that they attack healthy growing cells as well as cancer cells. Because cells in hair follicles are fast growing, many chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss, or alopecia. People can lose hair from anywhere on the body — the head, eyebrows, eyelashes, and facial and pubic hair. Loss usually occurs one to three weeks into treatment, depending on the specific drugs being given. Once it starts to fall out, hair may simply become thinner or it may fall out altogether.

As each person’s individual medical profile and diagnosis is different, so is his or her reaction to treatment. Side effects may be severe, mild or absent. Be sure to discuss with your cancer care team any/all possible side effects of treatment before the treatment begins.

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How to manage the hair loss

Anticipating and experiencing hair loss can be a difficult time. The VCU Massey Cancer Center’s Magical Touch Salons provide free consultation and free head wear. To schedule an appointment, call (804) 827-1043.

People often choose to wear wigs, scarves or hats while and after losing their hair. We recommend that you pick them out ahead of time and start wearing them before your hair is completely gone. Other ways to manage your hair during treatment include the following:

  • Wash it less frequently.
  • Use a gentle moisturizing shampoo.
  • Avoid coloring products, permanents or other products with strong chemicals.
  • Do not use brush rollers, curling irons or blow dryers on hot settings.
  • Consider cutting your hair short before you begin treatment.

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Will my hair return?

Yes. The color or texture may be different but it usually begins to grow about six weeks after you have completed chemotherapy.

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