Chemotherapy drugs often lead to the anagen effluvium type of hair loss. As these drugs kill cancer cells throughout the body, they also can damage healthy cells, including hair matrix cells. The hair typically starts to fall out within two weeks of starting chemotherapy and progresses more rapidly after one to two months, according to the American Cancer Society. Hair loss is more common and severe in patients taking combinations of chemotherapy drugs than in those who take just one drug.
Chemotherapy drugs that tend to cause hair loss include:
How Is Drug-Induced Hair Loss Diagnosed?
How Is Drug-Induced Hair Loss Treated?
It's important to review any medications you take, and discuss their potential side effects with your doctor and pharmacist. When hair loss does occur from a drug you're taking, there is a good chance that the hair will grow back on its own after you stop taking the medication. If stopping the drug does not improve hair thinning, you may need to be treated with finasteride (Propecia) or minoxidil (Rogaine), medications that slow hair loss and can stimulate new hair growth.
One technique may help prevent hair loss during chemotherapy. It's called scalp hypothermia, and it involves placing ice packs on the scalp a few minutes before -- and for about a half-hour after -- chemotherapy treatment. Cooling the scalp reduces blood flow to the hair follicles, making it harder for the chemotherapy drugs to get into the follicular cells. Cooling also reduces biochemical activity, making the hair follicles less susceptible to damage from chemotherapy drugs. One concern with this technique is the risk of cancer recurrence in the scalp, as perhaps this area did not receive the full dose of medication due to cooling vasoconstriction.
After chemotherapy treatment, the hair usually grows back in very quickly, but it may change in texture. In rare cases, the hair will stay thin even after treatment has been stopped. Minoxidil can help regrow hair that is slow to return. Some chemotherapy patients wear a wig or hat to hide their hair loss until their hair grows back.