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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Visible Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatments

The side effects of breast cancer treatment that people around you might notice can take an emotional toll on you.

But there’s a lot you can do to overcome them, and that can help you feel better.

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Breast Changes

The first visible side effect is having part or all of your breast removed. If you've had a mastectomy, you can choose to use an external prosthesis instead of, or before, breast reconstruction surgery.

When you wear a breast prosthesis, you tuck it into a bra or attach it to your skin with double-sided tape.

If you chose to get one:

  • Ask your doctor for a prescription for an external prosthesis -- then usually it can be covered by insurance.
  • Ask your oncologist for referral to a specialized store that sells external prostheses. You may also find them in some lingerie departments.
  • Make an appointment with a breast prosthesis consultant and allow yourself about an hour to get fitted.
  • Try a variety of them to see which feels and looks the best on you.

Hair Loss

Some chemotherapy kills fast-growing cells -- like hair follicles -- whether those cells are cancer or not. Hair loss is different for everyone, and it depends on the type of chemo you're taking.

Radiation and hormonal treatments may also cause this side effect.

What to expect:

If you lose hair from chemo, it's likely to fall out within 1 to 2 weeks of starting treatment. It may thin or fall out almost all at once. It's common to lose hair over your whole body, not just on your head. This means you may lose eyelashes and eyebrows, as well as arm, leg, and pubic hair.

You can't prevent hair loss with ice caps or other measures. But if you use a mild shampoo, soft hairbrush, or cool blow-drying, that may slightly lessen your hair loss.

Sometimes hair begins to grow back even before your treatment is done. It may be thinner or a different color or texture.


You can prepare for hair loss and make it easier to deal with. For example, many women find it helpful to cut their hair short before it starts falling out. This way you can avoid losing large clumps of it in the shower or waking to large amounts on the pillow.

Here are some other tips that may help:

  • Consider buying scarves, turbans, caps, or hats before your hair falls out.
  • Ask your oncologist for a "cranial prosthesis" prescription to help ensure insurance coverage for a wig.
  • Check with wig retailers and makers, your hair stylist, or the American Cancer Society to learn about wig and hair product options.
  • Before you begin chemotherapy, match your hair texture or color to wigs. This is also a good time to have a wig styled. But if you get fitted with a wig early, know that it may fit slightly different once you lose your hair.
  • Prepare loved ones, especially children, for how you'll look with your hair gone. It may help to involve them in choosing scarves and other products.
  • If you choose to go bald, remember to use sunscreen on your head when in the sun. Keep your head warm in cold climates, too.
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