Written by Philip Kingsley Trichologist, and Clinical Director, Glenn Lyons.
All my career I have been very aware of the psychological significance of hair; when our hair looks good, we feel good. It has an effect on morale, confidence, quality of life and many people’s personalities are identified by their hair.
Only the cells of the intestines divide more rapidly than those of scalp hair. Consequently, it is an excellent barometer of our wellbeing and is sensitive to:
- Weight changes
However, the most profound effect occurs from cancer treatment. “Am I going to lose my hair” is of foremost priority, sometimes even before “Am I going to live”.
Chemotherapy relates to any treatment of infections and diseases with chemical agents. However, and understandably, most of us relate this to cancer. The effects of chemotherapy on hair can be divided into three categories.
(a) Those drugs that will cause hair loss in 100% of cases
(b) Those that are dependant are an individual’s response, dosage and duration of treatment.
(c) Those that never cause hair loss.
With the advancement of cancer research, oncologists cannot always accurately predict the outcome on the hair. Irrespective, it is extremely rare that full regrowth of hair will not happen. However, post treatment the hair can feel different from pre-treatment hair. There can be a change in hair shape and texture, which again, albeit rare, can be permanent.
In many cases radiotherapy treatment will cause “localised” permanent hair loss and when administered to the head, hair loss often occurs at both the entry and exit sites.
PREPARING FOR HAIR LOSS
From my experience, I have found the following methods have been useful in helping individuals cope with hair loss caused by chemotherapy.
(a) A shorter hairstyle
‘Gradually’ shorten your hair style, the shedding of long hair will always appear more excessive.
Hats are a popular option for both men and women and come in different shapes, styles and colour. They are common fashion accessories and are both practical, keeping the head warm and attractive.
These are another option, and are available in a wide variety of colours and materials. The best ones for you scalp are light and airy to wear.
There are an enormous amount of styles, designs, colours and prices. Wigs are made from either human or synthetic (monofibre.) hair. There is limited choice for men. When choosing a wig always go with a friend for an honest opinion on suitability.
THE COLD CAP
The use of cold cap in reducing hair loss has been well documented. When employed, it can reduce the amount of the drug reaching the hair follicles which minimizes hair loss. In some cases the use fi a cold cap prevents it completely. There are two methods that are mostly used and the chemotherapy nurses will always advise accordingly.
However, cold cap cooling is not suitable for all types of cancer. The process can take at least two hours and there can be a lot of discomfort. It is important that the patient does not walk around while the cap is in place and attached to the cooling machine.
POST CHEMOTHERAPY TREATMENT CARE
Scalp hair growth rate is 1-1.5 cm per month.
(a) Therefore after 3 months there should be overall good coverage.
(b)The application of hair colorants / perming should not be undertaken for 6 months and then only when certain tests on the hair have established suitability.
MY TOP TIPS
- Even with significant or total hair loss daily shampooing is advisable i.e. keep the scalp clean.
- When considering a wig always take a friend to get an honest opinion on suitable, colour and style.
- When in one’s own privacy the wig should be taken off.
- Never massage the scalp as new hairs are growing post-chemotherapy. This will cause mechanical trauma to the “new” developing hairs.
AVAILABLE SUPPORT GROUPS
McMillian Cancer Support booklet
"Coping with Hair Loss"
Toni & Guy Cancer Awareness Scheme
“Strength & Style"
Top Hairdresser, Trevor Sorbie, also specializes in helping cancer patients.