Cancer. The word alone creates fear
and confusion. Patients face not only the uncertainty of their
disease, but also the anxiety of treatment—particularly hair loss.
This article provides facts about the
relationship between chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hair loss.
Its aim is to provide you with the information you need, using
non-medical language, to understand what is happening to your hair,
Hair grows from the root, from the hair follicle, where a
constant process of cell division occurs. Amino acids taken from
blood feeding the follicle join with dividing cells, resulting in
cell chains. Eventually these cell chains link up with one another,
resulting in a long fiber. At this point, the nucleus of the
original cell is dead, and the amino acids have formed into a hard
Keratin is a protein, and it is the
substance our hair and nails are made from. It is a lifeless
substance that results from the “pushing” of newly forming cells in
the follicle. As the keratin protein is pushed out, our hair grows
from the root. The growth of our hair follows a cyclical pattern
that is one of the body’s most active “growing” processes: building
shafts of hair for a period of time, and then resting.
Cancer is a condition of uncontrolled cell growth. Anti-cancer drug
administration aims to reduce or stop this process. However,
anti-cancer drugs act on both normal and cancerous cells, and are
most likely to destroy cells that reproduce quickly. Hair follicles
divide rapidly, which is why they are affected by chemotherapy. At
any one time, about 85% of scalp hair follicles are reproducing.
Because a variety of drugs are used
for chemotherapy treatment, hair loss depends upon the type
prescribed and the dosage. Not all chemotherapy causes hair loss
and, except in rare instances, hair loss is temporary. When
treatment is completed, the hair follicles will resume processing
amino acids from your blood and creating new hair for you.
Radiation therapy employs high-energy rays to inhibit the growth and
division of cancer cells. It destroys all cells’ ability to grow and
multiply in the area of application; however, cancer cells are more
sensitive to radiation than normal cells. If treatment is applied as
a cancer cell is about to reproduce it will prevent the cell from
doing so, and the cell will die. Still, radiation therapy can
sometimes affect normal tissue, causing side effects. One possible
result of treatments to the head and neck is hair loss. Some or all
of your hair in the area being treated may be lost. But, in most
cases, hair growth will resume at the end of the treatment cycle.
Hair Loss Alternatives
There are several options for dealing with hair loss once it occurs.
You may choose to cover your head with a hat, scarf or turban. Or,
you may choose to replace your hair either with a
chemotherapy wigs or a
prosthetic hair system.
If you choose to replace your hair,
you’ll be happy to know that fake-looking wigs are a thing of the
past. New technologies have made both
human hair wigs and
synthetic wigs appear highly
realistic because they can be fitted to the shape of your head.
European Human hair wigs are
typically more expensive and require more maintenance.
Synthetic wigs are less expensive
(although some special models are more expensive), and are easier to
style and wash. Synthetic wigs also dry more quickly, and require