Hair and cancer

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Hair and cancer

Hair loss is a common side effect of cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or bone marrow or stem cell transplantation. Cancer treatments damage cells that involve in hair growth. Cancer treatments affect the hair all over the body that includes the scalp, face, arms, underarm, legs, and pubic area. Clinically hair loss is termed alopecia.

All cancer patients are not facing the same type of hair loss. Cancer patients may lose hair from all the mentioned body parts, or only a specific section of it. Even the pattern of hair loss may also differ. Hair loss may gradually and become thin with time or else hairdryer and duller. However, hair re-growth usually starts after the withdrawal of cancer treatment. But some cancer patients experienced hair stays thin at rest of their life.

Hair loss becomes a challenge for cancer survivors in terms of both physical appearance and emotional aspects. Consultation with the healthcare team may support cancer patients in coping with hair loss.

How do different cancer treatments impact hair loss?


All chemotherapeutic drugs may not cause hair loss. But some of the chemotherapeutic drugs like Altretamine, Carboplatin, Cisplatin, Docetaxel, Doxorubicin, Epirubicin, Fluorouracil, Gemcitabine, Idarubicin, Ifosfamide, Paclitaxel, Vincristine, and Vinorelbine have a prospective impact on hair growth.

Hair loss does not start immediately after the chemotherapy intervention. Hair loss intensity depends upon the requirement of cycles, medication used, and dose. Hair loss also depends upon the route of administration of chemotherapy. The patient’s factors also depend upon the intensity of hair loss. However, hair fall usually starts within one to two months of treatment.

After stopping chemotherapy, hair growth is started within 1 to 3 months. Complete growth requires six to twelve months. Sometimes cancer survivors experienced different textures and colors after regrowth of hair. Hair takes time to go back to normal.


Radiation therapy usually affects the hair of the body part where radiation is given. For instance, radiation on the pelvic region causes hair loss in the pubic area. Dose and method of radiation impact hair loss. The impact of radiation on hair depends upon dose. Hair regrowth starts after several months.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy does not cause complete hair loss. But some targeted therapeutics like Afatinib, Cetuximab, Dabrafenib, Dasatinib, Erlotinib, Ibrutinib, Imatinib, Nilotinib, Panitumumab, Sonidegib, Sorafenib, Trametinib, Vemurafenib, and Vismodegib may cause hair to become thinner, curlier, or drier than usual.

Hormonal therapy

Hair loss because of hormonal therapy for cancer treatment is also a common finding. It starts after several months to years of therapy. However, complete hair loss due to hormonal therapy is a rare incidence. Certain hormonal therapies like Anastrozole, Fulvestrant, Letrozole, Octreotide, Tamoxifen can cause hair loss.

Hair dye and cancer link

Medical researchers have found a link between hair dye and cancer. Hair dyes are mainly three types – temporary dye, semi-permanent dyes, and permanent dyes. Hair dyes are formulated by using different chemicals. These chemicals reach the internal physiological system through skin contact. However, the scope of such exposure depends upon the type of dye used.

Temporary dyes only cover hair surface and wash out after one to two times of hair washings. These hair dyes are unable to penetrate through the hair shaft.

Semi-permanent dyes can penetrate the hair shaft, as they stay longer period and wash out after five to ten hair washings.

Permanent hair dyes are long-lasting. The chemical composition of these hair dyes is aromatic amines, hydrogen peroxide, and phenols. Permanent hair dyes are sometimes referred to as coal-tar dyes. Permanent hair dyes can reach internal physiology because of residual remains for a prolonged period.

Researchers conducted a test on lab, animals to find out the scope of cancer development because of hair dye usage. Both males and females are using hair dyes. Therefore, it is necessary to find out the risk.

Multiple types of research have been performed. But no steady result obtains from them because of inconsistent findings. Some studies have found hair dye usage increase the risk of bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, and breast cancer. However, many study results did not conclude the same. Furthermore, this difference may occur because of the different chemical compositions of hair dye. All chemicals are not carcinogenic.

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