Coping with Your Renewed Identity Amid Hair Loss
- “Charmed” actress Shannen Doherty, 52, says she struggled with hair loss because her hair helped define her identity. She’s unpeeling layers of her cancer journey in her new podcast, “Let’s Be Clear,” created to share her own story in her own words.
- Losing your hair or seeing it thinning is often a side effect of some cancer treatments. Such a drastic physical change may lead to anxiety and sleepless nights.
- 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 four to six weeks after treatment.
- If losing your hair is a concern for you before cancer treatment, know you have options like cooling caps, wigs, hats, wraps, and scarves, among other things. While no treatments guarantee your hair won’t fall out during or after chemotherapy, scalp-cooling caps and minoxidil (Rogaine) may help.
Brave actress Shannen Doherty, 52, says her hair was part of her identity, and she was proud of it. However, when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, she worried that her long dark brown locks were on borrowed time. Her fears were a precursor to the emotional toll she’d undertake while coping with hair loss amid cancer treatment.
“I was known for my hair a little bit,” Doherty said on her new podcast “Let’s Be Clear.”Read More
“It took kindness from family, friends, and people on social media showing me photos of their bald heads. I felt like I had a family of like-minded people going through the same thing. It wrapped me into this cocoon of safety that made me feel less ostracized from the world and a part of something,” Doherty explained.
“It motivated me to share my story and the beauty of it and the ugliness of it to help others go through what I was going through and possibly speed up cancer research,” she added.
Helping Patients Cope with Hair Loss
- Chemotherapy Side Effects – Hair Loss
- Coping with Hair Loss During Ovarian Cancer Treatment
- If You’re Looking For Ways To Deal With Hair Loss During Cancer, You’re Not Alone
- Ovarian Cancer: Dealing With Hair Loss During Chemotherapy
- Living With Cancer: Coping With Hair Loss & the Anxiety it Brings
- Preventing Hair Loss During Chemotherapy: Scalp-Cooling Devices
Hair Loss: How to Navigate One of the Most Emotional Steps During a Cancer Journey
Hair loss is challenging for women and men alike, but it can be incredibly difficult 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.
WATCH: Hair loss during chemo.
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 starting 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.
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 four to six weeks after 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 before cancer treatment, know you have options like wigs, hats, wraps, and scarves, among other things.
WATCH: What is a scalp-cooling device?
Another option to minimize hair loss is cryotherapy, which is “just a fancy way for saying cold therapy,” says Dr. Renata Urban, a gynecologic oncologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.
That means wearing 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.
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 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 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.”
Remember, though, that it does take commitment to tolerate the cold. Some women find the caps give them a headache. The cold temperature may feel unpleasant, so layering up and bringing a blanket is optimal if undergoing this treatment.
Remember to talk with your doctor about potential treatments to mitigate the loss and the resources at your disposal for handling the loss.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
If you’re going through cancer treatment and experiencing hair loss, here are some questions you may consider asking your doctor:
- Are there any treatments to help manage or minimize my hair loss?
- What are scalp-cooling devices, and how do they work?
- Do you recommend scalp-cooling devices?
- What other options are available to help me cope with hair loss?
- Can you recommend a wig maker?
- I’m struggling mentally with my hair loss; can you recommend a therapist to talk to?
- How can I find a local support group with people going through similar things?