Radiation therapy can cause hair loss (the medical word for this is alopecia). But the hair is only lost in the area being treated. For instance, if you get treatment to your hip, you will not lose the hair on your head. But radiation to your head may cause you to lose some or all of the hair on your head, even eyebrows and lashes. Generally, you will start to see the effects of the radiation within two weeks of your first treatment and can expect the loss to get progressively quicker over time.
Not all chemo drugs will make you lose your hair. Some people have mild thinning that only they notice. Your doctor will be able to tell you if your chemo is likely to make you lose your hair. You can lose hair on all parts of your body, not just your scalp. Eyelashes and eyebrows, arm and leg hair, underarm hair, and pubic hair all may be affected. It usually doesn’t happen right away. More often, hair loss begins after a few treatments. At that point, your hair may fall out slowly or in clumps. Any hair that remains may become dull and dry.
Once you start losing your hair, we suggest that you cut it very short or even shave it off completely. Mentally, this allows you to take control of the situation and makes the hair loss process much easier. Since you should already have your wig by this time, you will have something to put on as soon as you trim your hair off. You should continue to care for your scalp with a mild shampoo and conditioner to help circulation and prevent the skin from drying. If your scalp is sensitive, you can apply a facial moisturiser to ease the irritation, however, regular body lotion is too oily for use on the scalp.
Most patients find that their hair grows back after the treatments are finished, although it may be thicker, thinner, a different texture or even a different colour than it was before. Most doctors recommend that patients don’t use hair dyes until their hair returns to normal; this may be as long as 6 months after treatment. Many women choose to continue wearing their wigs while their hair is coming back in and even once their hair has grown back because of the simplicity and freedom it allowed them!