Hair loss due to chemotherapy

Hair loss due to chemotherapy

Hair loss happens when chemotherapy interrupts normal hair growth. Hair loss is usually temporary and your child's hair may regrow even before treatment ends.

Key points to remember

This page is part of a whole section about childhood cancer.

  • hair loss (alopecia) happens when chemotherapy interrupts normal hair growth
  • hair loss can range from very little loss to severe thinning, to complete baldness
  • not all chemotherapy medicines cause hair loss
  • hair loss is usually temporary and your child's hair may start to regrow even before treatment ends

How does chemotherapy affect the hair?

Hair loss, known as alopecia, happens 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 that divide rapidly such as the ones in hair follicles.

Is hair loss the same in every child?

No.

  • 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 hair loss
  • hair loss can happen more than once depending on the type of treatment your child has
  • hair loss may start within a week or so after treatment starts

How long does hair loss last?

Hair loss is usually temporary. Your child's hair may start to regrow even before treatment ends.

Will my child's hair be the same when it regrows?

You may notice some changes 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.

How will hair loss affect my child?

Hair loss can be a traumatic part of receiving chemotherapy treatment especially for teenagers who often don't like to appear different from their friends. Younger children are often less worried about their hair loss.

How can I help my child cope with hair loss?

Help your child to talk with others

It is a good idea to help your child talk about hair loss with a member of your child's healthcare team or with other people who have had hair loss.

Suggest a short haircut

Some people find having their hair cut short before it starts falling out is best for them - you can suggest this to your child.

If your child or teenager wants to have a head shave - a number one with the safety guard on the shaver - it's safe as long as they are not neutropenic at the time.

Give your child a hat or bandana

Give your child a bandanna, hair net or a beanie to wear at night - this can help prevent loose hairs in their face and sheets which can cause itchiness.

Your child might like to wear a hat or a bandanna during the day.

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. Read about the Ministry of Health's Wigs and Hairpieces Service Payment.

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

You and your child can get more information about managing hair loss from your doctor, nurse, or social worker. You can also contact the Child Cancer Foundation or CanTeen.

All the pages 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 clinical leader of the National Child Cancer Network.

This page last reviewed 23 May 2018.
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