Why not everyone loses hair on chemotherapy, according to cancer nurse

By Staff 7 Min Read

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A cancer nurse has shed some light on why exactly the side effects of chemotherapy can look so different from person to person, including why some lose their hair and others don’t

Nobody’s chemotherapy journey is the same, and symptoms can vary from person to person.

Kate, Princess of Wales, is currently undergoing chemotherapy after being diagnosed with cancer. And while some will breeze through their treatment with relative ease, others will experience a range of side effects, from exhaustion to anaemia. Perhaps the most commonly known side effect of chemotherapy is hair loss, which can understandably be distressing.

Given that chemo targets fast-growing cells in the body, this can include cells found in the roots of a person’s hair, whether on their scalp, face, or elsewhere on their body. This hair loss is temporary, and patients can expect their hair to return quickly after their treatment is complete.

Not all cancer patients will experience hair loss, however, as explained by Caroline Geraghgy, Senior Cancer Information Nurse at Cancer Research UK. Speaking with the Mirror, Caroline revealed: “Not all chemotherapy causes hair loss. Only some types of chemotherapy cause hair loss. And the reason it causes hair loss is because chemotherapy works on fast-growing cells.

“Cancer is technically fast-growing cells, but you have other fast-growing cells, they replicate quite quickly. These are the ones that line your mouth, and your gastrointestinal tract. So all the way down from your oesophagus to your anus.”

She continued: “So those could be affected but also your hair follicles because, think about it, your nails grow, your hair grows. So some hair loss can just be on your head, but some hair loss can be your whole body, total hair loss. Eyebrows, pubic hair, leg hair, arm hair, all that kind of thing.

“In some cases, if chemotherapy doesn’t cause hair loss, it can cause hair thinning. But it’s temporary. Once the treatment is stopped, your hair starts to come back.”

As per information given on the Cancer Research UK website, hair loss can also be dependent on a range of factors, including the dosage, sensitivity to the drug or combination of drugs, and how the treatment is administered, for example, orally, as an injection or through a drip.

According to Caroline, there are things chemotherapy patients can try to help reduce hair loss, including a cold cap – a close-fitting cooling device that helps reduce blood flow to the scalp. This method doesn’t work for everyone, however, and some will find the freezing temperatures of the caps too uncomfortable.

Those facing potential hair loss in their treatment may also choose to cut their hair shorter so that the loss, patches or thinning isn’t so dramatic. Others will instead opt for wigs or hair coverings.

With chemotherapy, hair loss tends to be gradual rather than sudden, and if it happens, it will usually start within two to three weeks of beginning treatment. Although regrowth varies between individuals, patients can expect to have a covering of hair between three to nine months after finishing their treatment, as per Macmillan.

In some cases, patients will notice differences in their hair once it does grow back, for example, a change in texture or colour.

This comes as many people have been inspired to check out symptoms following Kate Middleton’s brave address to the nation about her cancer diagnosis. The princess shared that she was in the early stages of preventative chemotherapy, and expressed gratitude towards the ‘fantastic medical team’ who have been taking care of her.

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