Marc Avram: Too many of us are faced at some point in our life combating cancer and still a very commonly treating is through chemotherapy and some chemotherapy medications unfortunately cause hair loss. And for many patients the loss of their hair is almost as upsetting as having the cancer itself, because it's something that tells the world and tells them something radically is different in their body.
The reason you loose hair from chemotherapy is because our hair follicles are very active as we know we have to cut our hair every few weeks, every couple of months. So chemotherapy medications tend to go after cells that are replicating very quickly such as cancer cells. So it has a tendency to go after anything that replicates quickly and unfortunately our hair follicles get affected by that. The hair loss from chemotherapy is temporary, once you remove the medication the hair will grow back, not all chemotherapeutic agents cause hair loss. Ask your oncologist if there is a medicine that they feel will work optimally for you that won't cause hair loss. If they feel that you need a medication that will cause hair loss and that there is no other choice for you, then just be prepared you are going to loose your hair. In fact you may loose all your hair on your body. Why?
Because chemotherapy is affecting your entire body and all your hair follicles whether it's on your lower leg, your eyebrows, your eyelashes, your scalp will be lost during chemotherapy.
Some patients say there is pain associate with it, and some say there is no pain. It's variable from patient to patient. We are not sure what's causing the pain, whether the pain is in fact a direct result of the chemotherapy destroying the follicles, or whether there is pain beyond the skin, the stress basically of loosing the hair.
It's easier for a man frankly. These days many men just decide to shave their hair off. It's a fashion statement; its very popular society accepts it. For women that's a different story, it's a lot of stress. Clearly when you have cancer you want to fight it and you want to beat it. So clearly you want to go after the optimal treatment including if that results in temporary hair loss. One of the wonderful things that's developed in the field of oncology is support groups and hospitals throughout the country and throughout the world now are very sensitive to this issue of hair loss and have excellent referral sources for both support and actual options including temporary hair pieces that look completely natural for patients. These days often I will not know that someone has a hair piece and no one will know that you have one. They are excellent affordable and available for patients undergoing chemotherapy. Some insurances now do at least partially reimbursed for the cost of a hair piece. If you choose not to wear a hair piece, if that's not for you, there are other great fashion things you can do; such as scarf's, wraps and hats to camouflage your hair. Speaking again to support groups, other people who have been through will give you good ideas, good tips on how to make yourself feel better about yourself while you are undergoing the chemotherapy. Unfortunately the same rules apply for children as adults, children undergo chemotherapy will loose all their hair. The hair foundation does partner with the Childhood Leukemia Foundation which is an excellent resource for providing hair pieces for children undergoing chemotherapy.
What happens to your hair when it grows back? Patients ask will it grow back fully? Most of the hair grows back exactly, the way it was before. Some patients are convinced and I don't doubt them that their hair is growing back thicker then it ever was before. Is it possible that a chemotherapeutic agent affects our matrix cells that create our hair follicles to either make them thicker than before or thinner in an individual? I think that's very possible that it does. But the important point is your hair will grow back, once the chemotherapy is over. Speak to your oncologist, go to the support group, because if you know what to expect with your hair loss, if you know that it's going to be temporary it does make it easier for patients.