If you are undergoing chemotherapy as part of your lung cancer treatment, it’s possible that you’ll lose your hair. Here’s how to handle this very visible side effect.
By Krisha McCoy
If chemotherapy (drug therapy) is part of your lung cancer treatment, you may lose your hair — not just on your scalp but all over your body. Some people decide to take control of the situation by shaving their head before their hair falls out, while others let it happen on its own.
Either way, hair loss can be distressing. Some simple steps can help you minimize the loss and manage the emotional toll.
Why Hair Loss Happens
Along with surgery and radiation treatments, people with lung cancer sometimes receive chemotherapy to shrink a tumor or reduce the chances cancer will come back.
While chemotherapy is very effective at killing cancer cells, it can affect normal cells, too. The cells that are most vulnerable to the effects of chemotherapy are those that divide rapidly, including the cells that make up hair follicles. When the cells responsible for hair growth are damaged, the result is hair loss.
Not all chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss as a side effect, so whether it happens to you depends partly on the specific drugs you are given. The dose of drugs also matters. And even with chemotherapy drugs known to cause hair loss, not everyone experiences this side effect.
Talk with your doctor about the chemotherapy you are receiving to find out if you are likely to lose your hair.
How to Minimize Hair Loss
Hair loss usually occurs within two weeks of starting your chemotherapy. The first signs will be more hair collecting in your brush and coming out when you shampoo. You might also find clumps of hair on your pillow. Try to remember that this is the usual course of events, and your hair will most likely grow back.
Hair loss due to chemotherapy cannot be completely prevented, but there are some things you can do to minimize it and make the loss easier to live with:
Be gentle. Treating your hair gently can minimize chemotherapy-related hair loss:
Treating your hair gently can minimize chemotherapy-related hair loss:
- Wash with a mild shampoo.
- Avoid too much brushing.
- Stay away from curling irons, hair dryers, electric rollers, and other heat sources that can damage your hair.
- Use a wide-tooth comb.
- Skip braids, ponytails, and other hairstyles that pull at your hair.
Ask your treatment team about scalp hypothermia
Scalp hypothermia involves placing ice packs or similar cooling devices on your scalp before, during, and after chemotherapy infusions. A review of studies of scalp cooling published in International Journal of Cancer in March 2015 found that it significantly reduces chemotherapy-related hair loss. The drawbacks to scalp hypothermia include feeling cold and having headaches.
You may want to consider cutting your hair short or shaving your head before your hair starts to fall out or when you’re in the early stages of hair loss to make the loss less dramatic for you. Wearing a hair net at night can keep you from waking up with hair all over your pillow.
Shop for a wig
If you want to wear a wig, shop for one before your treatment begins so your hair’s color and texture can be matched. Ask your doctor for a wig prescription; it may be covered by your insurance.
Protect your scalp
Wear a hat and scarf when you are outdoors during cold weather and use sunscreen or a hat for sun protection.
Your hair will most likely start to grow back two to three months after you finish treatment, maybe sooner. Be prepared for your hair to possibly be a different color or texture than it was before.
As it starts to grow back, your hair may break easily, so be extra gentle, especially during the first few months. With continued tender, loving care, you will soon start looking like your old self again.