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Is My Cancer Treatment Hair Loss Permanent?

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Losing their hair is one of the biggest fears for many men entering cancer treatment. An even bigger fear is that the hair will not grow back. For this reason, let’s examine some realities of cancer treatment-related hair loss and that question, “Is this hair loss permanent?”

The quick answer to the question “Is my cancer treatment hair loss permanent” is generally, “No.” Chemotherapy destroys healthy cells along with cancerous ones. This often results in hair loss. But the lost hair typically grows back after treatment ends.

Is This Hair Loss Permanent? When Will My Hair Grow Back after Cancer Treatment?

If you lose your hair during cancer treatment, you will likely lose it from your head, eyelashes, eyebrows and other parts of your body. This loss usually starts in weeks one to three of treatment. It is generally at about the first month or two that hair loss is at its maximum.

When you finish your course of chemotherapy, you can typically expect some thin regrowth a couple of weeks later. This hair will appear sparse and fuzzy. At about four to six weeks post-treatment, you should see normal-looking hair regrowth.

However, it is important to know that some chemo drugs make cancer treatment hair loss permanent for some people. Taxotere, also called docetaxel, is one such drug.

It is important to talk to your oncologist about the chemotherapy drugs used for your treatment. Ask the doctor your question, “Is this drug’s cancer treatment hair loss permanent?”

According to a 2019 PLOS ONE journal study of 1470 patients undergoing chemotherapy, the following statistics are true:

  • Hair regrowth occurs at 3.3 months after treatment on average
  • About 13 percent of patients start regrowing hair before their cancer treatment ended
  • For under 0.5 percent of patients, hair has still not grown back at six months post-treatment

Will My Hair Look Normal When it Grows Back?

If your oncologist answers your question, “Is my cancer treatment hair loss permanent” with “No,” it is easy to presume your second question. That is typically, “Will my hair look normal after treatment?”

The first hairs that grow back after chemo are typically thin and fuzzy. You may notice your hair behaves differently than in the past. For example, it may stand on end or not hold a style. Your hair can also appear patchy because different follicles enter active growth phase before others.

With time, your hair will normalize. But you may not recognize its texture. You can possibly even grow curly hair where you once had straight. It may be brittle and difficult to style, too. Many people grow a different hair color, altogether.

Beyond “Is my cancer treatment hair loss permanent,” you can experience some of these textural and appearance surprises.

According to the PLOS ONE study referenced in the section above, the following statistics relate to hair changes after chemotherapy:

  • 58% of study participants had thinner hair growth after treatment
  • 32% noticed no change in hair volume
  • 63% grew curlier or wavier hair
  • 25% had no textural change
  • 53% grew back the same color of hair
  • 38% had more gray or white in their hair regrowth

Even when hair is different when it grows back after chemo, the changes are not always permanent. Over time, hair regrowth often normalizes to pre-treatment condition, texture, volume and color.

How to Stimulate Healthy Hair Regrowth

Because of the negative answer to your question of “Is my cancer treatment hair loss permanent,” you probably want to do all you can to promote healthy hair regrowth. This typically means making some easy behavioral and lifestyle changes.

Things you can do to stimulate healthy hair regrowth after chemotherapy include:

  • Limiting brushing and styling early in your hair regrowth
  • Avoiding pulling on the hair
  • Not styling with hot tools like hair dryers or straightening irons
  • Avoiding dying or perming the hair for several months
  • Applying sunscreen to your exposed scalp to protect it from UV rays
  • Wearing a hat when out in the sunlight during early regrowth
  • Applying minoxidil during regrowth or even during chemotherapy to reduce hair loss

Always talk to your doctor before using any hair regrowth treatments, particularly during chemotherapy or other cancer care.