Resources for Patients and their Families

Patient Hair Loss

For many cancer patients, hair loss is a painful reality. For most who do lose their hair, it’s the most demeaning part of undergoing chemotherapy, and many patients – especially women – experience intense emotions when their hair begins to fall out. Indeed, our hair is part of our identity and losing it is like losing an important piece of ourselves.

After chemo patients come to grips with their hair loss, they usually recognize the fact that – these days – there are many viable options available to address thinning hair or baldness. Wigs are better than ever and more and more hospitals, especially cancer centers, offer consultants and counselors that can help cancer patients better deal with their hair loss and choose quality and sensible alternatives.

Losing Your Hair

Most cancer patients – women especially – often decide that rather than watching their hair fall out little by little or in large clumps they should take fate into their own hands and shave their head. For some people, shaving their head represents the fact that they are in control of their cancer and its outcome.

If, however, you choose not to shave your head, it’s important to treat your hair gently during chemotherapy. Washing only when necessary may slow hair loss and the use of styling tools that involve heat should be avoided. Also avoid sprays and other chemicals that can irritate the scalp as it becomes more exposed.

Choosing a Wig

When it’s time to take the step towards purchasing a wig, you’ll find that there are a few different kinds of wigs from which you can choose when searching for a way to cover baldness or thinning hair. It’s a good idea, however, to visit a wig shop or other facility that is well-versed in addressing the unique needs of the cancer patient. For example, those who regularly deal with cancer victims know that the scalp of a patient undergoing chemo or radiation is usually very sensitive and demands the use of a wig with a lining that will not irritate the skin. Shops that specialize in so-called “medical hair prostheses” are aware of the needs such as this.

Usually, cancer patients shopping for wigs will have a choice between synthetic wigs and those made with real human hair. Synthetic wigs are quite easy to care for and are usually lightweight and comfortable. Generally, they require little maintenance. Human hair wigs can be washed and conditioned like real hair but according to manufacturer’s instructions. Both are viable choices for cancer patients. However, as previously mentioned, they should be lined with a soft material to avoid irritation.

Becoming Accustomed to the Wig

The patient who is wearing a wig for the first time will no doubt be annoyed by the way it feels and may even experience mild pain in the beginning. Therefore, until the patient becomes accustomed it the wig, he/she should wear it for just a few hours at a time, taking time to rest the scalp in between. It’s okay to gently wipe the scalp with a warm cloth when the wig is not on the head. Before long, it will begin to feel more natural and will be able to be worn all day.

Generally, the wig you wear during the day should not be worn at night. Instead, patients can purchase “sleep wigs” made of soft materials if they wish to wear a wig to bed. Other nighttime options are available as well.

Wig Alternatives

Many cancer patients choose not to wear a wig but still wish to cover their thinning hair or bald scalp. Not everyone feels comfortable in a wig and some may feel as if a wig makes them look unnatural. Therefore, it’s okay to opt for some other kind of head covering including a soft turban, a silk or cotton scarf, or a hat of some sort. Again, as with a wig, it’s a good idea that the part that touches the head be of a soft cotton material. Most wig companies sell special cotton caps that can be worn under all sorts of head gear in order to achieve extra comfort.



The Mayo Clinic – Chemotherapy and Hair Loss: What to expect during treatment

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