This information has been designed to provide you with useful information if you are going to lose your hair as a result of having chemotherapy. It explains about:
- Hair Loss
- Scalp cooling
- Hair wigs
- Alternative headwear
I am going to have chemotherapy - will I lose my hair?
Some chemotherapy drugs do lead to the loss of body hair. However it is important to remember that your hair will begin to grow back once your treatment has finished. Your doctor or nurse will be able to tell you whether your treatment is likely to cause hair loss. Losing the hair on your head is a particular concern for most people.
Will my hair fall out on the day I have my first treatment?
No. People generally lose their hair over a period of time. At first you may notice that your hair thins, this is followed by more rapid hair loss. Although the speed at which you will lose hair often depends on the type of drugs that you are given and the dose, hair loss generally occurs between two to six weeks. Your nurse will be able to provide you with further information that relates specifically to your treatment.
How should I care for my hair while I am having my treatment?
It is a good idea to treat your hair as gently as possible. You may find the following tips helpful:
- Use a gentle unperfumed shampoo and conditioner.
- Try to reduce the number of times that you wash your hair during the week.
- Let your hair dry naturally and where possible pat your hair dry rather than rubbing it.
- If you need to use a hairdryer then use the cold setting.
- Be gentle when you brush or comb your hair and use a soft brush or a wide–toothed comb.
- If you have long hair avoid plaiting or tying it in a ponytail.
- Avoid using hair rollers, curling tongs, hot brushes, hair irons and hair braiding.
- Avoid hair dyes, perms and other products that contain strong chemicals while you are having your treatment and for a few months after your treatment has finished.
Can hair loss be avoided?
Hair grows from a hair follicle. Each hair follicle has a blood supply that provides hair cells with the nutrients that they need in order for your hair to grow. The drugs that kill cancer cells flow around the body via the blood system. They enter the hair follicle and damage the hair cells. This causes the hair to fall out.
Scalp cooling can be used to try and prevent hair loss during chemotherapy. This technique works by reducing the temperature of the scalp, causing narrowing of the blood vessels. This then reduces the blood flow to the hair follicle, which means that the amount of drugs that reach the hair follicle is also reduced.
Is scalp cooling available in Newcastle?
Yes. If you are having your chemotherapy in a different hospital then you will need to ask your nurse if they can provide this service for you. Scalp cooling involves the use of a special cap. There are two types of caps, one cap is filled with gel that has been chilled and the other cap is filled with cool air that is pumped to it from a special cooling machine.
Are there any risks with scalp cooling?
As scalp cooling reduces the amount of chemotherapy drugs that reach the scalp, we think that there may be a very small increased risk that cancer could return to this area (scalp metastases). It is difficult however to determine what the actual risk may be as there is only a small amount of research that has looked at this topic
Will I still lose my hair with scalp cooling?
The success of scalp cooling cannot be guaranteed and most people will experience some hair loss. The amount of hair loss varies between individuals and is often dependent on the dosage and type of chemotherapy that is being used. Even in those people who eventually do lose their hair, the process of hair loss often appears slower than normal.
Will I be in hospital longer if I have scalp cooling?
Yes. A cool cap is placed on your head approximately 20 minutes before you start each course of chemotherapy. The cap is left on your head while you are having the drugs that cause hair loss and for several hours after they have been administered. As the cap is cold some people can find it uncomfortable and may experience headaches, although these usually disappear once the cap is removed. Scalp cooling is not suitable for everyone. If you would like to consider having scalp cooling then you must speak with your hospital doctor or nurse before you start your treatment.
If I am going to lose my hair as a result of having chemotherapy will the hospital provide me with a wig?
Yes, and in most cases you will not be expected to pay for it. If you require a second wig then you will need to contact your nurse for advice.
How do I get a wig?
If you are going to receive your chemotherapy in Newcastle then your nurse will arrange for you to speak with the hospital’s appliance officer. You may be asked to visit the appliance officer or she may come to speak with you while you are in hospital or arrange to telephone you at home. She will give you a letter to take with you when you visit the wig shop. If you are having your treatment outside Newcastle then your local chemotherapy nurse will be able to tell you how and where to get your wig.
Where do I get a wig?
There are several specialist shops in Newcastle where you can go to get your wig and the appliance officer or your nurse will be able to give you more information. If you are too ill to visit the shop then it may be possible to arrange for someone to visit you while you are in the hospital or at home. There is a charge for visiting people at home (but no charge for being visited in hospital).
Do I have to wait until I have lost my hair before I can get a wig?
No. Once you have your letter from the appliance officer then you can get your wig as soon as you wish.
If you have long or thick hair it is useful to have it thinned or shortened before you see the wig fitters. This will help them to supply you with a wig that will fit you correctly when you lose your hair.
Do I have to make an appointment to visit the shop?
No. You do not usually need to make an appointment, however you should allow at least 40 minutes for your visit.
Can I take someone with me to help me choose my wig?
Yes. The shop assistants, who are often qualified hairdressers, have a great deal of experience and will assist you in choosing the right wig.
Is there a choice of wigs?
Yes. There is a large selection of colours and styles and the staff will make every effort to help you choose the right one for you. If they do not have a suitable wig in stock then they may be able to order one for you. It may be useful for you to know that the majority of wigs come with a fringe.
How do I care for my wig?
The shop assistants will provide you with information that will help you to care for your wig.
Is it uncomfortable wearing a wig?
No. It is not usually uncomfortable. A new wig can sometimes irritate your head. Rinsing it in a bowl of lukewarm water with a small amount of fabric conditioner often solves this problem.
It is important to remember that your scalp can sometimes be tender or painful when you are losing your hair but this usually only lasts for a few days.
You should also remember to protect your head in hot and cold weather.
What if I have a problem with my wig?
The assistants in the wig shop are happy for you to contact them if you have a problem with your wig or if you have any further questions or concerns. Alternatively, your nurse may be able to help you with any problems that you may have.
Alternative head wear
What if I don’t want to wear a wig? Is there an alternative?
Yes. People often like to wear cotton headscarves, caps, turbans or hats.
You may be interested to know that a range of scarves and turbans are now available in the Northern Centre for Cancer Care. These items are modestly priced and are sold on behalf of the ‘Charlie Bear for Cancer Care’ charity. Volunteers run the ‘Charlie Bear’ stall and to avoid disappointment we suggest that you visit during:
- Tuesday 10.00am and 12.00noon
- Thursday 10.00am and 4.00pm
The Marie Curie Hospice in Newcastle, in conjunction with Breast Cancer Care, provides a local HeadStrong Service every Friday for any patient who has lost their hair due to chemotherapy treatment. You will be offered a one-to-one appointment with a trained Breast Cancer Care volunteer in a comfortable, confidential and private setting.
During the appointment you will be able to try on a range of items, learn how to tie scarves in a variety of styles and talk through any concerns you may have about hair loss. You will also be able to order and buy items. To book an appointment please contact the Marie Curie Hospice on 0191 219 1119.
If you have any further questions, please speak to your hospital doctor or nurse.
Macmillan Cancer Support provides information about all aspects of cancer as well as emotional support for cancer patients and their families. They have more information on their website about ‘coping with hair loss’. Alternatively, call: 0808 808 0000.
Breast Cancer Care is a national organisation offering support and information to those who are affected by breast cancer. They have produced a booklet that is free of charge to patients entitled ‘Breast cancer and hair loss’. For more details, call: 0808 800 6000
The Northern Cancer Network provides basic and easy to understand information on subjects of interest to cancer patients, their families, friends and carers.
They have also set up a number of Patient Information Centres with a centre manager and trained volunteers to give support and advice. The Macmillan Cancer Information and Support Centre is based at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care and is situated near the main patient waiting area. Call: 0191 213 8611 during office hours (answer phone service at all other times).