Chemotherapy and radiation are common treatment options for people who have been diagnosed with cancer. While radiation may be targeted at specific areas, chemotherapy is systemic; it affects the entire body. As a result, while chemotherapy kills fast-growing cancer cells, it also kills or slows the growth of healthy cells, including hair cells, that divide and grow quickly, explains the National Cancer Institute.
When chemotherapy treatment is complete, the body is typically capable of regenerating new hair, but that can take some time. For many of us, our hair is a large part of our identity; the notion of losing it only to have it grow back in possibly unexpected ways can be scary, an added stress to already challenging treatment.
Understanding what to expect and what can be done to facilitate the regrowth of hair will help you navigate the road ahead as you embrace your newly growing locks as a symbol of healing.
New hair typically begins to grow within one to two months of the last chemo treatment. Breastcancer.org says you may notice soft fuzz forming on your head roughly two to three weeks after the end of chemo. This will be followed by real hair growing at its normal rate one month afterward. Two months after the last treatment, an inch of hair can be expected.
How hair grows back elsewhere on the body, such as the eyelashes, eyebrows and pubic area, varies from person to person. Experts recommend speaking with a doctor if hair is not regrowing quickly, which can be evident of low levels of iron or zinc or even thyroid problems.
“Understanding what to expect and what can be done to facilitate the regrowth of hair will help you navigate the road ahead as you embrace your newly growing locks as a symbol of healing.”
To help the process along, some doctors suggest the use of supplements like biotin. According to the National Institutes of Health, biotin is a B vitamin found in many foods that helps turn carbohydrates, fats and proteins into energy. There is some evidence that taking biotin can help thicken and speed up the growth of hair and nails, but more research is needed.
It is not uncommon for hair grown after chemotherapy to look and feel different from hair prior to treatment. Someone who once had straight hair may develop a wavy mane afterward. While drastic changes are not common, blonde hair may darken.
As hair grows in, certain areas on the head may grow faster than others. Working with an experienced stylist will help you achieve a look that is evened out and stylish at any length. Make your first trip back to the salon a special experience with a celebratory glass of champagne and bring your loved ones along. Cutting hair won’t make it grow faster, but it will help you return to a sense of normalcy.
It can be nerve-wracking to wait for hair to regrow after chemotherapy. But patience and understanding the road ahead can assuage any fears breast cancer patients may have about regrowing their hair.