Hair loss due to chemotherapy

Hair loss due to chemotherapy

Hair loss happens when chemotherapy interrupts normal hair growth. Hair loss is in most cases temporary and regrowth may happen even before treatment has been completed. You and your child can get more information about managing hair loss from your doctor, nurse, or social worker. The Ministry of Health, through HealthPAC, has a service payment available to help purchase and maintain a wig, hairpiece or headwear.

How does chemotherapy affect the hair?

Hair loss, known as alopecia, occurs when chemotherapy interrupts normal hair growth. Chemotherapy disturbs the growth and division of cancer cells but also causes temporary damage to some normal cells, especially those cells which divide rapidly such as the ones in hair follicles.

Hair loss can range from very little loss, to severe thinning, to complete baldness. It may or may not include body hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. Not all chemotherapy medicines cause alopecia. It can occur more than once depending on the treatment being received and it may start within a week or so after beginning treatment.

How long does hair loss last?

Hair loss is in most cases temporary. Re-growth may happen even before treatment has been completed. Some changes may be noticed in your child's new hair. It may be a little more curly, thicker or finer than before and may even grow back a slightly different colour.

What is the impact of hair loss?

Hair loss can be a traumatic part of receiving chemotherapy treatment especially for adolescents who often don't like to appear different from their peers. Many younger children are less affected by hair loss than adults expect.

How can I help my child cope with hair loss?

  • it is a good idea to help your child talk about hair loss with a member of the oncology team or with other people who have had hair loss
  • some people find having their hair cut short before it starts falling out is best for them, so suggest this to your child. If your child or adolescent wants to have a head shave, a number one with the safety guard on the shaver is safe as long as they are not neutropenic at the time
  • give your child a bandanna, hair net or a beanie to wear at night. This can help prevent loose hairs in the face and sheets which can cause itchiness
  • hats can be fun because of the many styles and colours they come in. Many children like to wear a bandanna

What help is available?

The Ministry of Health, through HealthPAC, has a service payment available to help purchase and maintain a wig, hairpiece or headwear.

Your child's doctor will write a medical certificate for you so you can claim your entitlement.

You and your child can obtain more information about managing hair loss from your doctor, nurse, or social worker. You can also contact the Child Cancer Foundation or CanTeen – see Support groups in NZ (under Childhood cancer: Where to go for more information and support) for their contact details.

Where to go for more information and support

On this website:
Childhood cancer: Where to go for more information and support

Acknowledgements

All the fact sheets in the Childhood cancer section of this website have been written by health professionals who work in the field of paediatric oncology. They have been reviewed by the members of the National Child Cancer Network (NZ). Medical information is authorised by the National Child Cancer Network Clinical Leader.

This page last reviewed 22 June 2013.
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