Updated September 27, 2010
Not all women lose hair during breast cancer treatment, but if you’re undergoing chemotherapy, you may lose all or some of your hair. Some chemotherapy medicines make all your hair fall out, others thin or change your hair and still others do not impact your hair at all.
Chemotherapy makes hair fall out because it kills all rapidly dividing cells in your body, including cancer cells and those found in your hair and nails. You may lose hair in the shower or notice clumps on your pillow, comb or brush. Your eyebrows, eyelashes, pubic hair and the hair on your arms, underarms and legs also may fall out.
Hair loss does not cause physical pain, but just before your hair falls out, you could feel scalp tenderness or discomfort. The process may be quick or gradual. Whether and when it happens depends on your treatments.
Chemotherapies most likely to make your hair fall out include doxorubicin (Adriamycin) and paclitaxel (Taxol). Radiation treatment causes hair loss to the treated area, and hormonal therapies may cause hair thinning. Ask your doctor what to expect.
If your treatment could cause you to lose your hair, you may wonder how you’ll respond. Emotions related to hair loss vary. Women from many cultures and backgrounds find that hair loss affects the way they view their bodies and femininity.
How you react to hair loss depends on your personality and life situation. You may find that hair loss reminds you of the temporary loss of your good health; you might hate losing control over your appearance, or you could simply love having hair!
Staying in Control
Take charge by shaving your head before your hair falls out. Explore your options for head coverings. You could choose a wig that resembles your natural hairstyle (or one that gives you a new look), or you could purchase caps and brightly colored scarves.
Heat escapes from the tops of our heads, so without hair you may find yourself feeling cooler than usual. Buy fun hats to protect your scalp from sun exposure and to keep warm. If you don’t feel comfortable covering your head, it is perfectly fine to go bald.
Hair loss impacts everyone around you because it’s a visible reminder you are coping with cancer. You may worry about how your partner or children will react. Having open conversations about the changes to your appearance and letting children know that they can ask questions can help.
Your hair could come back during your chemotherapy or within the months following treatment. Most women have about an inch of hair a month after the last chemotherapy treatment. When your hair grows back, it could be a different color or texture than before, and it may slowly adjust back to what it was before your treatment. Getting it shaped early on could give it more style as it grows in.