Learn what to expect during this trying time
Losing one's hair to cancer drugs is often one of the most traumatic side effects of the treatment. Many patients wonder when their hair will grow back.
If you had chemotherapy, here's a typical timetable:
- two to three weeks after chemotherapy ends: soft fuzz
- one month after: real hair starts to grow at its normal rate
- two months after: an inch of hair
How long it takes to grow back a full head of hair (and pubic hair, lashes, and brows if you lost them too) varies from person to person.
Generally, the hair most likely to fall out is the hair that tends to grow back the fastest. The hair on the top of your head grows faster than your eyebrows or eyelashes.
Your new hair may be just like your old hair, or it may be thicker and curlier, or straighter, than your original hair. And your hair might grow back a different color. Women who dyed and processed their hair might not remember what their hair was like originally and may be surprised by the new natural color and texture. Eventually, your hair usually goes back to the way it used to be after the effect of chemotherapy on the hair follicle wears off.
The answer depends on the treatment: chemotherapy, whole brain radiation, or tamoxifen.
If you lost your hair after whole brain radiation for brain metastases, it may take four to six months before even an inch of growth appears. Your new hair will probably be thinner than it was, and you may have a small bald spot on the top of your head. So you may want to hold on to the wig or other headgear you'd bought for special occasions.
If your hair started thinning from tamoxifen treatment, the loss usually levels off after the first year. But the thinning may last as long as you take the drug, which might be as long as five years. You can use Rogaine (chemical name: minoxidil) for tamoxifen-induced hair loss. It's safe and effective, but a messy daily chore, and it's expensive. However, many drugstores and superstores carry generic versions of Rogaine that are less expensive and just as effective.
Very, very rarely, permanent baldness occurs after many years of strong chemotherapy: Hair follicles get “burned out” and shut down, so there is no new growth. Remember, this situation is extremely rare. If you are one of the very, very few women who remain bald, you may mourn your hair for quite a while. But you can become an expert on what to do to make yourself feel attractive, and help other women deal with their new loss.