Chemotherapy and radiation are common treatment options for people who have been diagnosed with cancer. While radiation may be targeted at specific areas, chemotherapy is systemic. This means it affects the entire body. As a result, as chemotherapy kills fast-growing cancer cells, it also kills or slows the growth of healthy cells, including hair cells, that divide and grow quickly, explains the National Cancer Institute.
When chemotherapy treatment is completed, the body is typically capable of regenerating new hair, but that can take some time. Women who consider their hair a large part of their identity may have strong concerns and fears regarding hair loss and what their hair may look like when it begins to regrow. Understanding what to expect and what they can do to facilitate the regrowth of hair can help women better handle what lies ahead.
New hair typically begins to grow within one to two months of the last chemo treatment. Breastcancer.org says people who have undergone chemotherapy may notice soft fuzz forming on their head roughly two to three weeks after the end of chemo. This will be followed by real hair growing at its normal rate one month afterward. Two months after the last treatment, an inch of hair can be expected. How hair grows back elsewhere on the body, such as the eyelashes, eyebrows and pubic area, varies from person to person. Experts at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer CenterÕs Dermatologic Care Center at Northwestern University in Chicago recommend speaking with a doctor if hair is not regrowing quickly, which can be the result of low levels of iron or zinc or even thyroid problems.
To help the process along, some doctors suggest the use of supplements like biotin. The National Institutes of Health says biotin is a B vitamin found in many foods that helps turn carbohydrates, fats and proteins into energy. There is some evidence that taking biotin can help thicken and speed up the growth of hair and nails, but more research is needed. Rogaine, the baldness treatment, also may be advised, as it's been shown to speed hair regrowth in breast cancer patients who have lost their hair, advises Health magazine.
It is not uncommon for hair grown after chemotherapy to look and feel different from hair prior to treatment. Someone who once had straight hair may develop a wavy mane afterward. While drastic changes are not common, blonde hair may darken.
As hair grows in, certain areas on the head may grow faster than others. Working with an experienced stylist can help a person achieve a look that is evened out and stylish at any length. Rosette la Vedette, a headwear retailer and cancer resource, suggests making a first trip back to the salon a special experience with a glass of champagne. Cutting hair won't make it grow faster, but it can help a woman return to a sense of normalcy.
It can be nerve-wracking to wait for hair to regrow after chemotherapy. But patience and understanding the road ahead can assuage any fears breast cancer patients may have about regrowing their hair.