Coping With Hair Loss
- Sen. Amy Klobuchar, 62, said that one of the first things that came to her mind when she was diagnosed with breast cancer was whether she would have to wear a wig because of treatment.
- Hair loss is something so many cancer warriors deal with, and it’s important to know you’re not alone.
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause hair loss. It usually begins about three to four weeks after beginning chemotherapy and continues throughout treatment.
- Most people can expect regrowth around four to six weeks after they complete treatment.
- If losing your hair is a concern for you ahead of cancer treatment, know you have options like cooling caps, wigs, hats, wraps, and scarves, among other things.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, 62, revealed that after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, one of the first things that came to her mind was something that so many cancer warriors can relate to: Will I have to wear a wig?
Klobuchar is reflecting on her brave cancer battle and shining light on the incredibly emotional journey that so many women face.Read More
Then, as her thoughts swirled and she tired to process the news, she wondered what would happen to her hair during treatment.
“Am I going to have to wear a wig?” she remembered thinking.
As a prominent politician in Congress, a change in hairstyle was likely to raise eyebrows from eagle-eyed news viewers and colleagues alike.
But whether you’re a senator or a mom or an accountant, concerns about hair loss are normal, as hair is an important part of many women’s identities. And losing it can impact your self esteem.
WATCH: Living With Cancer Coping With Hair Loss & the Anxiety it Brings
If you’re facing cancer treatment and are concerned about hair loss as a side effect, here are some questions you can ask your doctor:
- Is it likely that I will lose my hair due to treatment?
- Is there anything I can do to reduce these side effects?
- What can I do to reduce the anxiety I am feeling over hair loss?
- Are there any products you recommend?
Hair Loss: How to Navigate One of the Most Emotional Steps During a Cancer Journey
Hair loss is tough for women and men alike, but it can be especially challenging for cancer patients. Losing your hair or seeing it thinning is often a side effect of some cancer treatments.
“For cancer patients losing one’s hair can be unbelievably stressful. To start with, the dread of losing one’s hair can lead to some sleepless nights and feelings of anxiety,” Dr. Samantha Boardman, a New York-based psychiatrist, and author, told SurvivorNet.
To cope, Dr. Boardman suggested reaching out to other survivors who have been through a similar situation.
Chemotherapy can cause hair loss. It usually begins about three to four weeks after beginning chemotherapy and continues throughout treatment.
It happens because this treatment targets quickly dividing cells throughout the body. That includes cancer cells, but also hair cells.
Expert Resources on Hair Loss
Radiation is another treatment that can lead to hair loss if the hair is in the path of the tumor being treated. Radiation for a brain tumor, for example, may cause hair loss.
“If you do lose hair, it will regrow several weeks — or months — after treatment,” radiation oncologist Dr. James Taylor told SurvivorNet. “Fortunately, for most patients, hair loss is not a concern when having radiation therapy.”
Fortunately, hair loss during cancer treatment is not all bad news. Most people can expect regrowth around four to six weeks after they complete treatment. However, when your hair grows back you may notice some changes in its color and texture.
If losing your hair is a concern for you ahead of cancer treatment, know you have options like wigs, hats, wraps, and scarves, among other things.
And one potential option to minimize hair loss is something called cryotherapy—”just a fancy way for saying cold therapy,” says Dr. Renata Urban, gynecologic oncologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.
What that means is wearing what are called cold caps or special cooling caps before, during, and after each chemotherapy treatment.
The caps, which are tightly fitting and strap-on helmet-style, are filled with a gel coolant that’s chilled to between -15 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Essentially the caps “cause vasoconstriction, or a narrowing of the blood vessels bringing blood to the scalp,” Dr. Urban explains. By constricting the blood flow to the scalp, the caps limit the amount of circulating chemotherapy that reaches the hair follicles, protecting them from some of the chemo’s damaging effects.
The cold also decreases the activity of the hair follicles, which slows down cell division and makes the follicles less affected by the chemotherapy medicine.
“This has been shown to reduce hair loss by 50 percent,” Dr. Urban says. “I do try to let patients know it’s not a 100 percent prevention strategy, and it’s not been studied in all hair types, but it is at least an available strategy for patients to try.”
Keep in mind, though, that it does take commitment to tolerate the cold. Some women find the caps give them a headache. And they can make you really chilled, so if you want to tough it out, dress warmly and bring blankets.
Remember to talk with your doctor about potential treatments you could try to mitigate the loss and the resources at your disposal for handling the loss.
Loving Yourself Through Cancer
For some women who battled cancer or disease, hair loss provided inner strength. Holly Forbes, 32, proudly sports her shaved head. Forbes rose to fame as a contestant on “The Voice” television show.
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She suffered from seizures as a kid and part of her treatment brought on hair loss. However, the singer didn’t let her new look get her down. She is known for being a body positivity advocate.
She previously said that as a kid, it wasn’t easy being bald. “I listened to music; it gave me confidence.” Her confidence helped lead her to “The Voice” stage, where she excelled.
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