Side effects of chemotherapy - hair loss

Next to nausea and vomiting, most patients, especially women, worry about hair loss. Some drugs are more likely than others to cause hair loss, and your physician will tell you whether to expect this particular side effect. If the drug you will be taking is associated with hair loss, there are some ways to minimize hair loss, but they are not always effectively. Both involve preventing the chemotherapy drug from reaching the hair follicles in the scalp, either by constriction of the area with a tourniquet of by application of cold to reduce blood flow to the area. Your physician will let you know whether these are appropriate in your case.

Many patients decide to simply grin and “bare” it and most find that losing hair is more traumatic than being without it. Experts generally recommend that you cut your hair prior to receiving drugs that will cause severe hair loss. Your scalp will be sensitive to touch after hair loss, and sensitive to sun exposure, so it’s important to treat a newly bald scalp tenderly. Avoid unnecessary trauma, select soft head coverings (those sequined ball caps that well meaning friends provide may be far too uncomfortable) and apply sunscreen to prevent sunburn. It’s also important to remember that the hair provides an “early warning system” for the head, and without it, you are much more likely to bump your head on cabinets, car trunks and low entrances. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep your head covered for protection against trauma which is not only uncomfortable, but can be a source of infection.

A variety of wigs is available both for men and women, and your local cancer society can assist you in finding one that is appropriate for you. Many patients find wigs to be both uncomfortable and hot, so before spending a substantial amount on one be certain it’s what you want. In some cases, your insurance company may provide financial assistance, or your cancer society may have a program to help with the expense.

When your hair returns, you may find it a different color and texture than before, and it may not be as thick. Most experts agree that it’s important to pamper hair as it grows back in, and recommend gentle shampooing, soft brushes and wide tooth combs, and avoiding caustic products including permanent waves.

Changes in smell and taste


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