What is Chemotherapy-Induced Alopecia?

Chemotherapy drugs are powerful medications that attack rapidly growing cancer cells. These drugs also attack other rapidly growing cells in your body, including those in your hair roots. Hair usually begins falling out two to four weeks after starting chemotherapy. The amount of hair you lose depends on the type of chemotherapy drug you are given, and some chemotherapy drugs don’t cause any hair loss at all.

What does Chemotherapy-Induced Alopecia look like?

The most common type of Chemotherapy-Induced Alopecia is loss of all of the scalp hair, however, some people only lose patches of hair, or experience hair thinning.  Hair can fall out gradually, or it can fall out very quickly in clumps. Other symptoms can include a tender scalp. Chemotherapy-induced hair loss usually continues throughout the treatment and often for a few weeks after.

Is Chemotherapy-Induced Alopecia permanent?

Chemotherapy-Induced Alopecia is not usually permanent. Most people’s hair will begin to grow back within a few weeks of stopping treatment. Often the hair that first grows back is not quite the same as the hair that fell out. Some people have permanent hair loss following chemotherapy, usually after treatment with a drug called docetaxel, or after long term use of targeted cancer drugs called ‘epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors’.

What causes Chemotherapy-Induced Alopecia? 

Some drugs used in chemotherapy treatments are designed to be toxic to any rapidly growing cell in the body, including the cells in the hair follicle as they are some of the fastest growing cells in the body, which is why your hair falls out.

Can Chemotherapy-Induced Alopecia be treated or prevented?

There is no treatment that can guarantee your hair won’t fall out during chemotherapy, but scalp cooling caps can be quite effective for a lot of people. During your chemotherapy infusions, a closely fitted cap that is cooled by chilled liquid can be placed on your head to slow blood flow to your scalp, stopping the chemotherapy drugs from having an effect on the hair follicles.

Additional Information:

Cancer Research UK have some excellent information about Chemotherapy-Induced Alopecia.