How hair loss is second effect of life-saving breast cancer treatment


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Hair loss is just one of the devastating side effects cancer patients can face while undergoing life-saving treatment.

Strictly Come Dancing star Amy Dowden, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer, has shared how she is among the thousands of patients who are “heartbroken” over their hair falling out.

For many people like Amy, hair loss can be de-stressing.

While not all cancer treatments cause hair loss, some chemotherapy drugs can cause this side effect in as little as two to three weeks.

Treatment involves taking anticancer (cytotoxic) drugs — by IV, pill, or injection — to destroy cancer cells.

Amy Dowden, 33, has shared a glimpse of her new wig after being left ‘heartbroken’ after losing her hair after undergoing her second round of chemotherapy

The Strictly Come Dancing star, who revealed her cancer diagnosis earlier this year, posted a photo of the luscious caramel locks as she sat on a mannequin

The Strictly Come Dancing star, who revealed her cancer diagnosis earlier this year, posted a photo of the luscious caramel locks as she sat on a mannequin

Amy Dowden pictured in hospital for a chemotherapy appointment wearing her cold cap to help save some of her hair.  The cooling effect helps reduce blood flow to the scalp, which in turn reduces the amount of chemotherapy medication that reaches that area, reducing hair loss

Amy Dowden pictured in hospital for a chemotherapy appointment wearing her cold cap to help save some of her hair. The cooling effect helps reduce blood flow to the scalp, which in turn reduces the amount of chemotherapy medication that reaches that area, reducing hair loss

Cancer medicines that cause hair loss or thinning hair

Chemotherapy

Not all chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss or thinning, but some do.

It can cause hair on your head, eyebrows, eyelashes, and sometimes pubic hair to fall out.

It usually falls off gradually rather than suddenly and starts about two to three weeks after treatment is started.

Most people’s hair will grow back a few months after treatment is complete.

Other cancer therapies

Targeted drugs

Hair loss from targeted drugs varies depending on the type of targeted drug. It can cause changes such as:

  • the texture of your hair
  • how dense your hair grows
  • the color
  • how fast it grows back
  • eyelashes that become longer, thicker and darker in color

Hormone therapy

Hormone therapy usually causes thinning hair. Hair loss can begin in the first month of treatment and continue until treatment ends years later.

Hormone therapy for prostate cancer usually does not cause hair loss in men.

Immunotherapy

Hair loss from immunotherapy varies depending on the drug. Hair loss can occur within a few weeks or after a year.

Source: Cancer Research UK

These drugs are vital for disrupting the way cancer cells grow and divide.

But according to Macmillan, they also affect some normal cells, including hair follicles.

This damages the hair follicles and causes hair to fall out.

It’s not just the hair on your head that can be affected – eyelashes, eyebrows, armpits, legs and even pubic hair can also fall out, says Cancer Research UK.

Not everyone suffers from hair loss. But in those affected, it usually happens gradually within about two to three weeks of starting treatment, the charity says.

Usually the hair grows back after the treatment is completed.

But this can take up to six months, and the hair may be softer, a different color, or more curly when it comes back.

However, in very rare cases, the hair may not grow back at all. But this only happens with very high doses of certain drugs, says Cancer Research.

Besides covering your head or wearing a wig, wearing a cold cap is another way to manage hair loss.

Cold caps are hats worn during some chemotherapy treatments.

It’s also a method Amy Dowden has talked about on Instagram.

The cooling effect helps reduce blood flow to the scalp, which in turn reduces the amount of chemotherapy medication that reaches that area, reducing hair loss, the NHS explains.

The caps are usually worn 15 minutes before each chemotherapy treatment.

Amy went into detail about the fact that she’s starting to lose her hair in her Instagram post.

She said, “What I’ve found more difficult this time and over the past few days is shredding hair. Even though I’m cold capping, you’re hoping to keep 50 percent of your hair and there are many benefits to regrowing hair faster too.

“But as much as I prepared myself by waking up every day gently combing my hair with a wide tooth comb and seeing what came out, it’s just heartbreaking for me personally.”

Many people also wear wigs once their hair begins to fall out.

The NHS suggests seeing a wig specialist before undergoing cancer treatment so that it can match your hair color and style.