Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy
Remember: Cancer, as a term, applies to a very large group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled rapid growth and spread of abnormal cells. The bio-chemical process, through which cancerous cells reproduce and grow in the body, is parallel to the way many other healthy body cells actively reproduce and grow and are particularly similar to the rate which hair cells grow.
Chemotherapy is used in the treatment of cancer to destroy the cancer cells, which divide rapidly within the body. One side effect of this type of Cancer treatment is that it can also stop the growth of hair and may cause the shedding of hair. In some cases up to 90% of the hair may be affected and often the remaining 10% was already in the resting phase before the treatment was started. Some hair follicles do not shed the hair but produce a narrower weaker hair, which breaks off easily.
There is a wide range of drugs used in Chemotherapy and not all of these drugs cause hair loss. The drugs that are most likely to cause hair loss are listed as follows:
● Cytosine Arabinoside
● Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan)
● Doxorubicin (Adriamycin)
● Etoposide (Taxol)
● Vincristine (Oncovin)
The following drugs are less likely to cause hair loss:
● Mitomycine C
When hair loss occurs as a side effect of Chemotherapy it normally occurs very suddenly. Often the hair falls out in large clumps of hair on pillows. Many doctors and nurses recommend that the patient cut their hair very short before the hair loss is expected. Some patients may even consider shaving their head in order to avoid shedding clumps of hair.
Anti–cancer drugs such as chemotherapy are aimed to stop the abnormal growth of the cancer cells. Administration of anti-cancer drugs act on both normal cells and cancerous cells. All cells are more receptive to the action of drugs during active cell reproduction. Cells, which reproduce most rapidly, are the most likely to be destroyed. Unfortunately, some cells – such as hair follicles – also divide rapidly and can be affected by chemotherapy as well. To date, science has not yet discerned how to make today’s treatments distinguish exactly between rapidly reproducing cells and abnormal cells. The rate of fall out can differ between each patient.
Re–growing hair on average can take from six months to one year to return to normal. Returning hair may be different from the hair that was lost. Due to the absence or alteration of pigment the hair may grow back white, gray or a different color. Eventually, as the pigment cells return to normal, the hair should return to its original color. It is common for the new hair to be of a different texture and color but will eventually return to its original color and texture.
Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy rays to stop cancer cells from growing and multiplying. Radiation destroys the ability of all cells within reach – cancerous and normal to grow and reproduce. However, cancer cells are more sensitive to radiation than normal cells. If radiation is given just as the cancer cell is about to reproduce or divide, the radiation will prevent the cell from dividing and it will die. If the radiation is applied around the head or neck, hair loss will occur showing up as alopecia. Sometimes the hair may not grow back.
Children undergoing chemotherapy need to be (handled with care) due to the fact that the child has a low blood count, he or she may be bruised easily. Remember the child may not be affected by the hair loss as most adults would.
Recommendation: It is recommended that all chemotherapy or radiation patients wear prosthesis during and after their treatment until their natural hair re-grows. Prosthesis will not harm or damage the new hair re-growth or affect the treatment results.
Insurance: Most insurance policies cover the purchase of prosthesis. Please have your client inquire with their insurance company. However, make sure that the client reads the “Guidelines for Filing Insurance Claims” before making that phone call in order to first familiarize themselves with the specific language and wording needed and proper procedure of filling out the paper work.