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Hair Regrowth After Chemotherapy

People undergoing chemotherapy will notice different levels of hair regrowth. The speed of regrowth and thickness of your new hair will depend on various factors, including the individual, the drug (or combination of drugs) used, the dosage given, and the type of cancer.


This article discusses how chemotherapy impacts hair loss and regrowth. It includes information about how long it may take for your hair to grow back, how it may look and feel when it does, and how to care for your regrown hair.


What Is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses strong medicines to kill fast-growing cells, including cancer cells. It is a common cancer treatment and is often referred to as chemo.


Surgery and radiation therapy remove, kill, or damage cancer cells in a specific area of the body. Chemo is different because it works throughout the body. This means that chemo can kill cancer cells that have spread (metastasized) to nearby areas or to areas farther way from the original (primary) tumor.


Chemotherapy and Hair Loss

One of the most frustrating side effects of chemotherapy is hair loss. Because cancer cells and hair follicle cells are both types of fast-growing cells that divide quickly, chemotherapy will kill both types.1


The extent of hair loss can vary among individuals and depends on drug type and dosage. Some people may experience mere thinning of the hair, while others may lose all of their hair.


Hair loss tends to begin after a few chemotherapy treatments. The hair may fall out gradually, or it may fall out in clumps. Some patients shave their heads—opting to wear wigs, scarves, or hats—so they do not have to experience their hair falling out gradually over a period of time. Any remaining hair might look dull or feel dry during chemotherapy.


Some patients lose more than just the hair on their heads—some lose hair all over their bodies. They lose eyebrows, eyelashes, pubic hair, and even arm and leg hair. Each person reacts differently to chemo, so it is impossible to predict who will lose hair or how much hair.


Hair Regrowth After Chemotherapy

Your hair may start to grow back while you are still undergoing chemotherapy, or you may not have hair grow back until after the treatment has ended.


While each person has a unique experience with hair loss and regrowth, looking at general timelines may help prepare you for what to expect.


After treatment ends, you may see the following regrowth pattern:3


  • Several weeks: Soft fuzz forms.

  • One to two months: Real hair starts to grow.

  • Two to three months: Hair is about 1 inch long.

  • Three to six months: Hair grows about 2–3 inches long.

  • Twelve months: Hair is about 4–6 inches long.


When hair does grow back in, it may be a different texture or color than the hair you lost. For example, if you had straight hair, it may be curly when it comes back in. Some people also find that their hair grows back gray at first, and then a few months later, it returns to its natural color.


Caring for Hair Regrowth

As your hair grows, use a gentle shampoo and conditioner. New hair growth is fragile and your scalp may still be very sensitive. Talk to your oncologist (doctor specializing in diagnosing and treating cancer) or your dermatologist (doctor specializing in diagnosing and treating conditions of the skin, hair, and nails) for more personalized advice on the topic.


For the first six months after therapy, you may want to hold off on undergoing chemical processes like perming and dyeing. Using a hair dryer, a curling iron, or a straightening iron may also damage the fragile new hair.


Summary

Hair loss with chemotherapy and cancer treatment is common. You may experience changes to your scalp also. Most people do regrow hair eventually after treatment, but the hair growing back may differ in color, texture, or volume. It can take time for your appearance to return to what you were used to seeing.




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