Chemotherapy Fact Sheet

Although the word ‘chemotherapy’ can be a chilling one and understandably conjures up deep fear in most cancer patients, it is worth remembering that each course of treatment is designed to help and not harm a person’s health.

A chemotherapy course usually involves medication either in tablet form or by injections, which are prescribed by a specialist at a hospital. Inevitably, the treatments causes changes to happen to the body, and the main impact Lucinda and her team see is partial hair loss, and in some cases total hair loss, including on the head, body and face.

When Your Hair Starts to Fall Out

Although it varies widely from person to person, a chemotherapy patient usually begins to shed hair after the second treatment. The most natural human response is to think that avoiding washing or brushing the hair will prevent it from falling out, but this is not the case. In fact, this type of hair loss commonly manifests itself as a general thinning across the scalp and the whole body, rather than in small patches. Of course, any hair loss can be extremely upsetting both to the patient and their loved ones – with younger children often finding it especially hard to witness. As a chemotherapy patient, you may experience mixed emotions of anger, panic and fear, particularly if you are attempting to maintain normal routines at home.

Maintaining Scalp Cleanliness During Hair Loss

During any period of hair loss it is advisable to keep the scalp clean by shampooing as normal. Although you might assume shampooing increases the speed and amount of hair loss, this is often not the case, and on the plus side it makes the scalp feel more comfortable. In addition, when the hair starts to re-grow, the scalp is also in optimum condition. Another reason to shampoo regularly is that, if you decide to wear a hat or wig, the scalp has a light covering of sebum, or sweat, which can leave an odour and make the surface sore.


The Resting Phase and Regrowth

Patients enduring chemotherapy treatments find their hair lapses into a ‘resting’ phase known as Telogen, which causes the hair to shed. In fact, all of us who have hair experience Telogen every day, and most people lose 50-150 hairs in each 24 hours. The difference is that due to the strong medication, a chemotherapy patient’s hair follicles stay in this resting phase and remain dormant until the course of treatment is finished. Once you have completed a course of treatment, fine white hairs that resemble soft baby down usually start to reappear in around four to six weeks.

Soon after this, the hair begins to return to its natural shade and texture, while some patients have even reported that their hair re-grows in better condition than before their treatment. With hair growing at roughly half an inch per month, it normally takes about 12 months for the hair to reach a length of six inches.

Considering a Temporary Wig

While undergoing treatment, your medical team may advise you to consider wearing a wig, and this may seem like an appealing option if you are feeling like your own hair will never grow back again. Although this is not the case, your doctors and nurses may arrange for you to see a wig supplier before you start losing your hair. If this is an avenue you wish to explore, it is best to do so as early as possible, as you will need plenty of time to choose a style and colour that suits you.

If you are looking for a stock wig there is usually little or no difference between the quality of wigs supplied by an NHS provider or those you can purchase online. However, in most cases, the cost is reflected in the aftercare such as alteration, cutting and styling. Made-to-measure wigs are normally not covered under the terms of health insurance, but some patients decide this is the right option for them, regardless of the financial commitments this implies.

It is worth considering that wigs do look more natural if they are fitted correctly, and are cut and styled to the individual’s requirements. Choosing a basic style, and then having it altered to suit you can certainly help ease any trauma associated with wearing a wig, and this can also make your family and friends feel more at ease. Wigs also tend to look more natural if they are one shade lighter than your natural hair colour, as your skin tone usually becomes slightly paler during any intensive medical treatment.

Aside from a traditional wig, patients can also consider using the Intralace System™. At first this acts like a wig, but when the hair starts to re-grow, the system allows full integration with the new hair coming through. This system can be used until the hair is long enough for a short style, or patients can consider fine extensions to increase their newly re-grown hair.

Lastly, it is important to realise that the wearing of the Intralace System™, wigs, hats, turbans or scarves does not stop hair growth. In fact, keeping the head covered and warm encourages hair growth.

More help and advice on chemotherapy can be given during a personal consultation with the Lucinda Ellery consultancy.

Based on information supplied by Carol P Walker L.C.G.I. M.I.T. Cert.Ed. Consultant Trichologist

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