For many people, losing their hair is almost as distressing as finding out they have breast cancer. Our hair is a part of who we are and how we see ourselves, and losing it can affect our self-esteem. It also makes the cancer diagnosis public.
Coping with hair loss is a very individual thing. Some people want to wear a wig, hat or scarf, while others don’t feel the need to cover their heads at all. There are no rules about what you should or shouldn’t do. The most important thing is that you do what’s right for you.
Will I lose my hair?
Not all chemotherapy drugs will cause you to lose your hair. Some may have no effect on your hair at all, while others may thin your hair, but not cause it to fall out completely. Your medical oncologist will be able to tell you if the chemotherapy you are receiving might make your hair fall out.
Hair loss from chemotherapy usually involves most hair on your head and body, including eyelashes and eyebrows, pubic hair and nasal hair. If you want more information on hair loss, please read our Hair loss fact sheet. It has a list of common chemotherapy drugs and their likely effects on your hair.
Prolonged or permanent hair loss has been reported in a very small number of cases. Talk to your medical oncologist if you have concerns about hair loss and chemotherapy.
What can I do to prepare myself?
If you are having a chemotherapy treatment that is likely to make you lose your hair, there are things you can do to prepare yourself.
Hair usually starts to fall out about two to three weeks after the first chemotherapy treatment. Chemotherapy hair loss is usually quick and happens over a couple of days.
You may decide to shave your head when your hair starts falling out. The advantage of this is that it keeps the mess to a minimum and gets the process over with. Some hairdressers have a private room where they can shave your head in private, or you may like to ask your hairdresser if she or he would come to your place for a private visit.
Alternatively, you may prefer to wear a scarf, cap or turban until most of your hair has fallen out and then shave what is left.
If you have children, it’s a good idea to let them know that you might lose your hair so they can be prepared as well.
What can I do to prevent or reduce hair loss?
If you are worried about hair loss, you may like to ask your medical oncologist about cold caps. Cold caps keep your scalp at a very low temperature while you are having your chemotherapy infusion. Research has shown that cold caps can reduce the amount of hair loss, and prevent hair loss altogether for some people.
Cold caps traditionally are strap-on caps that are kept in the freezer. Some oncology clinics now offer a new form of cold cap, which are attached to a small machine and blow cold air on to your scalp. Some people find cold caps uncomfortable. They also increase the time spent in the chemotherapy clinic as you need to wear them for a time before and after your infusion, as well as during it. Cold caps need to be used with each chemotherapy treatment. Cold caps are only available in some centres across Australia and not all oncologists have them. If you would like to learn more about cold caps, it’s best to get in touch with your oncologist directly.
Wigs can be made from synthetic fibres, real hair or a combination of both. Prices range from $80 up to several hundred dollars. Wigs are an alternative to wearing hats, turbans, scarfs and beanies.
There are many specialty wig suppliers in Australia. These suppliers are experienced in fitting wigs to people undergoing chemotherapy. If you would like further information on wigs, have a chat with your oncology doctor or nurse. Alternatively, you might like to contact the Cancer Council Cancer Helpline on 13 11 20 to find out where to get a wig.
BCNA’s local services directory may include wig providers in your local area.
Look Good … Feel Better programs
Look Good Feel Better is dedicated to teaching cancer patients how to manage the appearance-related side-effects caused by cancer treatment. Women, men and teens can participate in a practical workshop covering skincare, make-up and headwear demonstrations, leaving them empowered and ready to face their cancer diagnosis with confidence. Workshops are available at over 180 venues around the country. Registration is essential by visiting www.lgfb.org.au or calling 1800 650 960.
Will my hair grow back?
Yes. The good news is that hair loss from chemotherapy is only temporary and your hair will grow back once your treatment is finished. Approximately six weeks after your final treatment, you will have grown a short but thick covering of hair over your entire scalp.
- Join BCNA’s online network if you think that talking to others online and sharing experiences will help.
- Search the online directory for hairdressers, head-covering and wig providers in your local area.
- Consider creating a hairpiece using your own hair. To find out how, download the Hair wefting information sheet or DIY hair piece brochure provided to us by BCNA members.
- For a wide range of head scarves, caps and turbans, visit Treat me Treasure me's online store.