Chemotherapy is a term used for the treatment of cancer through antineoplastic drugs or other such drugs. Very often, a combination of these drugs is given to patient for combating the disorder. Chemotherapy treats disorder by killing cells that have rapid division. Thus, cells that divide fast normally are also killed by these drugs. Hair follicle is considered as one of fast growing cells and thus, it is quite obvious that these cells would also be affected by chemotherapy.
There are many types of hair disorders resulted due to chemotherapy. Commonest among them is loss of hairs, which is also called as alopecia. Though newer drugs for treating cancer act against the abnormal proteins contained in the cancer cells, side effects of these on hairs are still being reported. Men as well as women have reported hair losses in most of cases of chemotherapy. Hair loss during this type of treatment also depends upon the dose and type of medications being given to the patient.
Hair loss due to chemotherapy is not limited to scalp or head. Rather, hair loss occurs throughout the body, as hair follicles are found on many parts. For example, hands and legs contain hair follicles. Chest of men also contain hair follicles. Eyebrow and eyelashes are also affected badly due to chemotherapy. In some people, chemotherapy may lead to thinning of hairs while in some people, in may lead to complete baldness.
It has been found that loss of hairs starts one to three weeks after the start of treatment.
Hairs can fall in clumps or gradually. First sign of hair loss is usually presence of accumulations of loose hairs on the pillow, comb and shower drain. Usually, hair loss continues throughout the chemotherapy treatment. It can continue up to some weeks after treatment also. Hairs start recovering and growing back again few weeks after the treatment is over. However, they may be different in color or texture. But this occurs for short period only and after some time, normal hairs start growing when hair pigment starts functioning again.
Tips On Hairs during Chemotherapy Treatment
There is no treatment for hair fall that can prevent hair loss during chemotherapy. However, there are certain steps that can be taken for minimizing the loss. These steps may not work in certain cases due to other factors. Many hair experts feel that a person should have a proper plan for dealing with hair loss during chemotherapy. This plan requires actions before, during and after the treatment.
During the treatment, scalp hypothermia may prove useful in preventing hair fall. In this type of treatment, ice packs or other similar substances are placed on the head for slowing down the flow of blood to scalp. Due to decreased blood flow, drugs being given in chemotherapy are not able to affect hair follicles completely. As a result, loss of hairs is controlled up to a certain extent. Most of patients undergoing chemotherapy have found satisfactory results of this technique. One risk that is associated with this technique is that since cells in scalp do not get required dose of drugs, cancer may recur in scalp.
Some people also find this technique as uncomfortable, as headaches occur frequently. Cold caps are also available in the market that have similar effect. These caps are made from such materials that help in cooling the scalp. As a result, flow of blood is decreased. Cold caps have been found effective in controlling the amount of chemicals also that penetrate hairs. Cold cap is usually applied fifteen minutes before the infusion of medications. These caps should be worn for one to two hours after the treatment. Some people may find it uncomfortable but it offers good result. Even oncologists recommend cold cap to their patients.
Another way of reducing hair loss during the chemotherapy treatment is consumption of drug Minoxidil. This drug helps in increasing the growth of hairs, though it may not prevent hair loss completely. This drug should be taken before, during and after the treatment.
Some hair experts believe that by using some gentle hair strategies, loss of hairs can be avoided to a certain extent. For example, during the treatment, satin pillowcase may be used, as it does not lead to bed head. Silk and satin do not catch and attract fragile hairs, which are commonly reported during the treatment. Similarly, soft brush should be used for combing the hairs.
Since frequent washing or shampooing of hairs make them dry and brittle, it should be avoided. During the treatment, hairs must be washed when it becomes necessary to do so. Also, for washing, gentle or mild shampoos should be used. There are some medicated shampoos available at the drug stores that are not so harsh on hairs. It is better if these shampoos are used. After shampooing hairs, if irritation persists, moisturizers should be used.
Since hair dryers make hairs dry and brittle, these must be avoided during and after the treatment. Hairs should be dried gently with towel. If a person uses hair color or other such chemicals for styling hairs, these must be discontinued. Hairs should be colored three to four months after the treatment.
Some people also shave their head during chemotherapy treatment. This helps in avoiding embarrassment or frustration due to falling hairs. Since scalp may become itchy and sensitive during the treatment, shaving of head helps in reducing irritation to a good extent. Some men prefer to have shaved head rather than having patchy head.
For reducing loss of hairs during chemotherapy treatment, scalp should be protected from being exposed to excessive heat or cold. Many people wear sunscreen or a head covering for protecting scalp from heat and sunrays. It is to be understood that due to chemotherapy treatment, scalp becomes sensitive. Thus, it can easily be irritated by sunrays or cold. In winters, a hat can be worn.
Some people also use wigs made from human hairs or synthetic hairs. However, wig must be bought before the start of treatment. Wig needs to be refitted many times during the treatment due to loss of hairs. If wig is causing irritation, a thin scarf can be worn under the wig for preventing it.