Clumps of hair bunched in a fist or a quick razor running through the hair – these dramatic and powerful images are often used in movies to show how traumatic and devasting surviving cancer can be. There is truth to that depiction since hair loss is a common side effect of cancer treatment.
Radiation therapy is commonly used for cancer treatment and may cause hair thinning and hair loss. The uncertainty that follows the treatment may lead you to the question – will my hair ever grow back? Scroll down to find the answer and learn more about how radiation affects the hair and how to manage it.
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Does Radiation Cause Hair Loss?
Yes, radiation therapy causes hair loss. However, it affects only the body part that is being treated with radiation. If your head and scalp are exposed to radiation (usually after a brain tumor surgery), it can affect the hair follicles and cause hair loss while the rest of the body may be unaffected. The degree of hair loss depends on the dose and duration of radiation.
While hair loss is the greatest in the treated area, you may also lose hair in areas where the radiation exits your body. Scroll down to the next section to know how radiation therapy may cause hair loss.
How Does Radiation Therapy Affect The Hair?
Radiation therapy may disturb the growth of the hair follicles, causing hair thinning and hair loss. You may notice hair loss after three weeks of starting radiation therapy. However, the hair loss may be temporary or permanent depending on the dosage. If the dosage is low, hair loss is temporary and it may regrow within 3-6 months after the treatment ends (1).
The texture and volume of the new hair may be different than the pre-treatment hair. Often, the hair grows back thinner and curlier.
If the dose of radiation is high or combined with other treatments, such as chemotherapy, it may severely affect the scalp and hair follicles, minimizing hair regrowth chances. In some cases, hair loss may become permanent. Keep reading to find out what happens to your scalp during radiation.
How Will Radiation Therapy Affect My Scalp?
During radiation, your scalp may become dry, irritated, or inflamed. Initially, the area exposed to radiation will lose hair, and the scalp may look like it is severely sunburned. It may turn red or pinkish due to inflammation and will feel tender to the touch.
After two weeks of radiation therapy, the scalp can get dry and itchy. This is a temporary condition, and the scalp will recover once the radiation therapy is over. During this time, the doctor may prescribe medicines to relieve inflammation and scalp discomfort.
Apart from medication, you may take precautions to reduce scalp sensitivity during radiation.
Caring For Your Hair During And After Radiation
You can cut your hair short or shave your head before starting radiation therapy. You may also use wigs with similar hair texture and color to cover up hair loss.
Here are a few tips to prevent discomfort and scalp sensitivity:
- Do not over-wash the scalp and hair to avoid irritation.
- Use a mild, moisturizing, glycerin-based shampoo or baby shampoos. Avoid products with harsh irritants, such as alcohol, parabens, perfumes, and artificial dyes.
- Always wash your hair with warm water, as hot or cold showers may irritate the scalp.
- Use a soft towel to dry the hair. Avoid excess tugging, pulling, or rubbing your hair as it might damage the hair follicles.
- Be gentle while brushing or combing the hair.
Hair care products like serums, hairsprays, gels, mousses, and masks
Hair styling tools like blow dryers, hair straighteners, and curling irons
Hair treatments like coloring, perming, relaxing, and keratin
- Protect the scalp from harsh environmental factors, such as UV rays, humidity, wind, cold temperatures. As the scalp is tender and irritated after radiation, keep it covered with a cap, scarf, hat, or turban made with soft natural fabrics like cotton.
Tip: Follow these precautions for 3-6 months after the treatment. Avoid using any home remedies as they may interfere with treatment.
Radiation causes local hair loss. Often, it is temporary, and the hair may regrow after you recover from the treatment. However, it depends on the time and intensity of radiation exposure and the effect of other medications. While there is no guarantee of hair regrowth, you can take a few pre- and post-therapy precautions to improve the chances of hair growth. These simple steps can give you a feeling of control and a sense of self-care during your treatment.
- Diffuse hair loss: Its triggers and management