Learning how to manage hair loss before, during, and after hair loss treatment may help you cope with this side effect. For many people, hair loss because of cancer treatment is more than just a change in physical appearance. Losing your hair can be an emotionally challenging experience that affects your self-image and quality of life.
Some people recommend cutting the hair shorter before beginning treatment. This provides fullness for a shorter hairstyle and makes hair loss a less dramatic change. Then, when your hair begins to regrow, it takes less time to grow into the shorter hairstyle. Letting your hair grow into a similar hairstyle can help you cope and move forward after treatment.
Cold cap therapy: Wearing a cap or head covering with cold packs before, during, or after chemotherapy may help prevent hair loss. The cold narrows the blood vessels in the skin on your head. This may mean that less of the drug reaches the hair follicles. The cold caps are generally available to rent online throughout your treatment. Talk with your health care team to find out if this approach may work for you.
It is recommended that caps be worn for 50 minutes prior to the start of the infusion process, and throughout the entire infusion period, and finally for at least 3 hours following the completion of infusion. Depending on your regimen, the entire process can take up to 6 hours. Note: the longer the caps are worn (up to 8 hours) the more effective they can be.
Laser Therapy: Some clinics offer low level laser therapy to halt hair loss and regrow hair, and there are also handheld devices for home use. Laser is often used as part of a regime including minoxidil and finasteride, special shampoos, thickening conditioners and other products that disguise hair loss. This makes it difficult to tell what improvement – if any – is from which treatment, and what is merely a temporary cosmetic effect.
Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer as to whether or not laser therapy works. There have been some clinical trials, but these have been criticised in the past for being too small, funded by laser product manufacturers, and not published in peer reviewed journals. More recently, however, a better quality clinical trial of the various HairMax brand handheld devices showed some evidence it may help regrow hair in some people.
It’s unclear whether the clinic laser devices are as effective, or more effective, than the handheld ones tested: the ideal laser wavelength, power, length of time and frequency of application hasn’t been definitively established. Laser treatment in clinic settings is often combined with other treatments, such as finasteride and/or minoxidil.
Consumer experiences are widely varied. While some people feel it works, others find it made no difference, and the rest found that the hair lost early in the process (which is quite normal) wasn’t replaced, and they ended up with less hair than they started with. This could be because their stage of hair loss wasn’t suited to laser therapy or they weren’t using the device as recommended.
For example, it needs to be used three times a week for 8, 11 or 15 minutes, depending on the model (the more expensive the model, the less time required). That’s quite a commitment, though it may be more convenient than going into a hair loss clinic on a regular basis.
The good news is that your hair will start growing back three to four months after your last chemotherapy treatment. Your hair may even grow while you are still taking your chemotherapy medicine. Some people find that their hair grows back differently. It may feel different. Some people who had straight hair before their chemotherapy treatment find that when their hair grows back it is curly. Your hair may also grow back a different color.
Hairpieces: Hair system, Strand by Strand, non-surgical hair replacement and hair replication are among the various synonyms used for hairpieces – a partial wig or toupee that’s attached to the scalp by glue or double-sided tape.
They’re extremely effective at covering a large area of thin or lost hair, and can be matched with and worked into existing hair. Forget the ‘rugs’ of old – by matching the colour (including grey hairs), strand thickness, curl and hair density to your existing hair, these days hairpieces can be made so well that they’re undetectable to the casual observer, even at the hairline.
Regardless of where you get the piece – or pieces, as it’s recommended you have at least two – you’ll need to factor in servicing costs, if they’re not included in a package. Every few weeks the piece will need to be removed and cleaned before being reattached. The portion of scalp it covers will need to be shaved, and the rest of your hair cut to suit the length of the hair in the hairpiece.
Hairpieces may only last six months, though it could be as long as a year or two, depending on what they’re made from and how well they’re looked after. Generally the better quality materials (lace base, natural fine hair) that make it look better are more expensive, but these pieces are more fragile than the longer-lasting cheaper products with a rubber base and synthetic hair.
While they may seem a more economical option than hair transplant surgery, after five to 10 years of servicing costs and replacement hairpieces, you may discover you’d have been better off having surgery, despite its high upfront cost.
Radiation therapy : Radiation therapy only affects the hair found where the radiation is aimed. For example, if you receive radiation therapy to the pelvis, you could lose hair in the pubic area. Hair loss depends on the dose and method of radiation treatment. Hair tends to grow back in the area of radiation therapy after several months. However, it may be thinner or of a different texture. With very high doses of radiation therapy, hair may not grow back or may grow back thinner.
For most people, treatments are given 5 days a week for 1 to 10 weeks. The number of treatments you need depends on the size and type of cancer, where the cancer is, how healthy you are, and what other treatments you’re getting. Most people get a break on weekends so their normal cells can recover.
Hormonal Therapy: Hormonal therapy is used to treat any stage of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer or to reduce the risk of developing it or having a recurrence. Hormonal therapy can be used by both pre- and postmenopausal women. Hormonal therapy can be given before, at the same time as, or after other breast cancer treatments.
How long you take hormonal therapy depends on if you’re taking it before or after surgery as well as cancer stage and any side effects you may have.
Postmenopausal women taking hormonal therapy AFTER surgery for early-stage hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer usually take a hormonal therapy medicine for 5 years. Doctors call this adjuvant hormonal therapy.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend that you take a different hormonal therapy medicine after the 5 years of the first one is up. For example, if you’ve taken tamoxifen for 5 years, your doctor may recommend that you take an aromatase inhibitor for an additional period of time. Doctors call this extended adjuvant hormonal therapy. Researchers are studying how long the second hormonal therapy medicine should be taken after 5 years of the first one.
Postmenopausal women taking hormonal therapy BEFORE surgery for early-stage hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer may take hormonal therapy medicine for 3 to 6 months before surgery to shrink the cancer. Doctors call this neoadjuvant hormonal therapy. How long you take hormonal therapy before surgery depends on your unique situation, so your treatment plan may be very different from someone else’s. Your doctor may recommend hormonal therapy before surgery if the cancer is large.
Pre- or postmenopausal women taking hormonal therapy for advanced (metastatic) hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer usually take hormonal therapy for as long as it works. If the cancer stops responding to one hormonal therapy medicine, your doctor usually will recommend a different hormonal therapy medicine.
You and your doctor will look carefully at all your hormonal therapy medicine options and decide on a treatment plan that is best for you and your unique situation.
No, one treatment will suit everyone. Your doctor can’t predict if it will work for you, and your hair loss clinic salesperson can’t predict if it will work for you. It’s a case of try it and see.
It also advised that you:
- Do your research
- Use a qualified medical practitioner
- Get a second opinion
- Make sure any promises made about the effectiveness of the hair loss treatment and money-back guarantees are put in writing
- Read any contracts carefully and get advice – don’t sign anything until you’re certain you know what you’ve agreed to and how much you’ll pay overall.