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Some cancer treatments can have an impact on the way you look – and hair loss can be a significant side effect. Some people find they’re losing small amounts of hair or find it thinning, while others can lose hair from all over their body.

It’s completely normal to feel distressed about hair loss or feel your confidence has been affected – but there is help out there to make this difficult transition a little easier. Our guide and tips can help you prepare for what to expect at this highly emotional time.

How will my hair be affected?

When healthy, roughly 90% of our hair is in the growing phase. Cancer treatments can affect this phase, but many find that any hair loss is usually temporary. The two main treatments are chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which can affect the hair in different ways.

Chemotherapy

If you’re undergoing chemotherapy, your hair may fall out within two to three weeks of commencing treatment . The use of certain drugs may also see hair loss from other parts of your body (including facial hair or pubic hair).

The amount of hair loss will vary from person to person – it can depend on the combination of drugs you’re taking, the doses administered and how your body reacts. But it’s also worth bearing in mind that not all drugs will bring on hair loss and if they do your hair is very likely to grow back following treatment.

Radiotherapy

Hair loss that happens as a result of radiotherapy will only occur in the area being treated, but it doesn’t always grow back . Again, whether you experience hair loss will depend on factors including the number of treatments and the dosage you’re given, but hair loss from radiotherapy is sometimes permanent – your doctor will give you any information you need before starting treatment.

How can I lessen the impact of hair loss due to cancer treatment?

If you begin to lose your hair during chemotherapy, it is naturally distressing. Many patients wear a turban or nightcap to bed, so they don’t have to wake up to hair on their pillow. Scalp cooling may also be an option, although unfortunately, it isn’t always available on the NHS. This treatment works by reducing the amount of chemotherapy medication that reaches your hair follicles and can sometimes even prevent the hair from falling out.

But what about the psychological effects?

It’s always important to be open with your doctor as they can help ease any confidence issues you may have. You may also find it beneficial to talk to others who are going through the same experiences – support groups can give you the chance to meet people who understand your situation.

Some people who start to lose their hair take the decision to shave their head, as they find it can help them feel more in control of the situation. From here, you could take the decision to wear a wig or hair piece.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can also help you change how you respond to certain situations or emotions. Many patients find it useful to be given new ways in dealing with what can be such overwhelming circumstances.

For many people, the way we feel about ourselves is closely related to our appearance. For this reason, losing your hair during cancer treatment can bring with it a multitude of emotions, including anger, depression, and loss of confidence. By being open with your doctor, talking to others in the same situation, and looking at ways to lessen the impact of your hair falling out, you’ll be able to better cope with hair loss and get the support you need.