Tips for managing hair loss during chemotherapy

December 4, 2014 in Disease Management  •  By Miles Varn
Chemotherapy-induced hair loss

While chemotherapy may be the most appropriate and effective treatment option for many breast cancer patients, like most treatments, it can cause side effects. Because chemotherapy drugs kill cells that quickly divide, which is how most tumor and cancer cells grow, they can also affect other healthy cells in the body that divide and grow rapidly, which can lead to certain side effects, such as gastrointestinal distress and hair loss.

Hair loss, also known as alopecia, can take a psychological toll on people undergoing chemotherapy, but there is a range of both innovative and tried-and-true approaches that can help you manage hair loss.

Here are a couple of tips for dealing with chemotherapy-induced hair loss that are worth looking into:

  • Try a cold cap
    Cold caps are tight caps worn on the head that contain a gel that’s chilled to between -15 degrees and -40 degrees Fahrenheit. They are worn before, during and after chemotherapy. They may help prevent hair loss among some chemotherapy patients because the cold temperature causes the blood vessels in the scalp to narrow, limiting the flow of drugs to the cells that make hair grow and minimizing the risk of hair loss. Two small studies from Europe suggested that cold caps are effective for about 50 percent of women. The success of cold caps depends partly on what type of chemotherapy drugs patients take. For example, results were better among those who were on anthracycline-only therapy, compared to women on taxane-only therapy.
  • Buy a wig before you start chemotherapy
    The best time to buy a wig is before you begin the first course of chemotherapy. This allows you time to pick a wig that matches your hair color and style. Take the wig to a hairstylist to help ensure a more natural look. If your insurance company won’t cover the cost of a wig, deduct it as a medical expense on your taxes.

When you’re being treated for cancer, it helps for life to feel as normal as possible. Managing hair loss can be essential to this process, and with the right team to link you to support groups, oncologists and other cancer resources, this can be easily achieved.

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