Hair loss and chemotherapy
Some chemotherapy cause hair loss (alopecia). For many people this change in their appearance is yet another strain, a reminder of the disease and the treatment. Hair loss is ranked by patients as one of the most traumatic side effects of chemotherapy. Many years after treatment is completed, patients describe their experience of losing the hair as worse than being diagnosed with cancer.
Chemotherapy affect cells that are in the phase of division or growth. All the cells in the body are affected, as well cancer cells as healthy cells. The healthy cells are better able to recover than cancer cells, which mean that the side effects are temporary and disappear gradually when the treatment has ended.
The growth phase in the hair cells of the scalp can be as long as 7 years. The cycles of the hair cells have different rhythms, which means that about 90% of the hair cells are always in the active growing phase.
Roughly 4-6 days after a dose of chemotherapy you can see a reduction in the size of hair roots. If the chemotherapy is repeated every week, the hair cell can switch from the active growing phase to break down, causing the hair to fall off. If there is a longer time between chemotherapy sessions, the hair cells recover and growth begins again. But, the strand of hair that is produced in the next 2-5 days will have a narrow, fragile part causing it to break off so that the hair does not grow out.
Hair loss can be prevented if the scalp is cooled during chemotherapy. The cold makes the small blood vessels around the hair follicle contract and smaller amounts of chemotherapy reach the hair cells. As a result there is less risk that hair will fall out.