It can be tough and tiring to treat when you have cancer. It can do a lot of damage to the body and weaken the immune system and almost every other system in the body. Tired, weak, pale, and run down. That’s a good question. Many people know that hair loss happens a lot when someone has cancer.
Scarves and Locks of Love campaigns show that this happens all the time. So, if you’re reading this, you might wonder, as many people do, if your hair loss is because of your treatment or cancer itself. We’ve looked at cancer/hair loss questions in depth. If you already know this, let’s start with what you probably already know.
Hair Loss Associated with Cancer Treatment
People who have cancer usually lose their hair because of their treatment. Most of the time, this isn’t cancer itself. According to a 2015 study, about 65% of cancer patients who get chemotherapy lose their hair during treatment. That’s a lot of people who have the same terrible side effects. There is a type of hair loss called telogen effluvium caused by chemotherapy.
Hair loss is called Telogen effluvium when one of the three stages in which your hair grows is interrupted. The first phase in hair growth is called anagen, and it is the most important one. This is where the hair increases and 90% of your hair should be in this phase at any given time. This is where the hair grows. That’s when it goes into “rest mode,” called the catagen phase, before going into hibernation, which is called the telogen phase.
As many as 9 percent of your follicles could be in this stage at any given time. More than that is a sign that something is wrong. Telogen effluvium is when there is a significant change in the number of follicles on your head that are active during the winter months or Telogen. Your hair is getting thinner on every part of your scalp, making it look sparse. Most people who get Telogen effluvium are stressed out by something like surgery, a significant trauma, extreme stress, or chemotherapy.
Hair Loss and Cancer
Hair loss is not a typical sign of a disease, but there are a lot of conditions where hair loss can happen. Hair loss can occur if you have psoriasis, thyroid problems, severe deficiencies, syphilis, or polycystic ovaries, all of which cause hair to fall out. However, it isn’t widespread in cancers to have this happen. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. However, there are a few ways that hair loss could be caused by cancer itself, which is true.
Some kinds of cancer are so rare that there aren’t enough people to make a connection. This is one example in which a link has been found. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is one of them. If the disease spreads to your skin, it has been known to make your hair fall out. It’s a very extreme version of the frustration that the disease can cause to things like itching.
These mild symptoms, like itching, show up most of the time. Most of the time, hair loss caused by these things will return to normal after the disease is dealt with, but scarring can sometimes stay. But in most of these cases, the root disease is more important than your hair. With cancer, too, it’s the same thing.
Treating Cancer and Hair Loss
The excellent information is that the entire telogen, effluvium, corrects itself. So, when the chemo is over, and there is no more stress, follicles that have been in telogen effluvium will slowly move back into the anagen phase as they’re ready and no longer inhibited.
When you have cancer, your priority should be to treat it. Even though you don’t want to lose your hair, chemo is always wrong. Even so, there are other things you can do both during treatment that can help. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself during the treatment to take good care of yourself.
Reduce the number of things that make you stressed out, both physical and mental. You should take it easy and do items that are good for your body. Eat well. Alopecia during chemotherapy may get worse if you don’t get enough nutrients. Making sure you take care of your health during this time is even more critical than it already is.
Afterward, the story changes. Your hair will begin to increase back on its own, but you can help it if you want to. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, finasteride and minoxidil are two products that can help you stop and even reverse hair loss. They work a little differently, but they work well together in most cases.
When finasteride is taken every day, it can cut dihydrotestosterone (DHT) levels by up to 70%. DHT is a hormone in your body, and it is the main threat to your hair when it comes to male pattern baldness. Blocking it can help a lot with hormone-based hair loss. We’ve talked more about DHT’s role in hair loss in our guide to DHT and male hair loss.
Minoxidil, on the other hand, encourages dormant follicles to grow again. In one study, it has helped thicken and increase the number of hairs by about 18% over 48 weeks. Furthermore, lifestyle changes may help in the process of regrowing. Besides reducing stress and eating a healthy diet, things like the right shampoo can help you if they have the right ingredients.