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Coping with hair loss

written by

Leukaemia Care, Charity

  • Chirs ByrneJPG (2)

Hair loss is one of the more well-known side effects of cancer treatments. However, the amount of hair lost, and the length of time varies from person-to-person.

What causes hair loss? 

The drugs in chemotherapy treatment destroy cancer cells but they can also affect other cells in your body, including hair follicles. However, not all chemotherapy drugs make your hair fall out. It might make your hair thinner or drier than normal and you may experience hair loss on other parts of your body such as your eyelashes and eyebrows, as well as the hair on your head.

The good news is that hair almost always grows back after chemotherapy treatment. It may even start to come back before you’ve finished your treatment.

Radiotherapy can also cause hair loss. Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays and you tend to only lose hair on the area where you receive the treatment.

Hair doesn’t always grow back after radiotherapy treatment but your doctor or radiotherapist will be able to talk to you about the possibility of permanent hair loss before your treatment.

Coping with hair loss

Losing your hair can have profound effects on your emotions. Regardless of whether you are male or female, young or old, it can affect the way you feel about yourself and others.

Hair loss can make you feel less self-confident, sad or even depressed. The value of hair should not be underestimated by anybody, and feeling like this is perfectly normal. There are ways of helping yourself cope better with the loss of hair.

When it first begins to fall out, some people shave it off rather than let it fall out on its own. This can give you a feeling of some control. Some even do this in an effort to raise money for charity.

When you have lost your hair, always remember you have a variety of options available to you. You may decide to invest in a wig, headscarves or you may decide to do nothing at all.


It is common for patients to imagine wigs as looking very unnatural. However, this is no longer the case and wig-making techniques have become more developed so they look much more natural.

The NHS makes provision for the supply of wigs to people who need them in order to help cope with medical hair loss.

There are two main wig options to consider - synthetic fibre and human hair.

Alternative head wear

Some people may decide to use a hat or headscarf instead of a wig. These can include regular hats and scarves, as well as more specialist headwear.

Not only is this option comfortable, it offers flexibility as you can change the head wear dependent on the temperature, your environment and even your clothing.

Going without a replacement

You may decide that you would like to go au naturale, and instead of a wig, you may decide to define yourself with make-up and jewellery.

Other options

If you lose your eyebrows or eyelashes, make-up can be a great way of enhancing your features. Why not visit a make-up counter at your local department store or beauty salon for advice?


If you would like to talk about the emotional effects of losing your hair, you can call our free 24-hour CARE Line on 08088 010 444. Macmillan also have a free booklet on coping with hair loss which is a useful guide if you have been affected by hair loss after cancer treatment.

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