October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is organized by major breast cancer charities every October to increase awareness of the disease and early detection, and to raise money for research and treatment. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we at Toppik want to provide you with information about what happens to your hair during cancer treatment, and tips on how to grow yours back. Overcoming your illness is the most important thing, but we want to offer some tips on how to regain some normalcy during a time that’s anything but normal.
Breast Cancer Statistics
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, except for skin cancers. 12% of American women, or 1 in 8, will develop breast cancer during their lives. Breast cancer begins when cells in the breast start to grow out of control, usually forming a tumor that can be seen in an x-ray or felt as a lump in a breast exam. As the cancer cells continue to divide at a rapid rate, they can move to other parts of the body and cause further damage.
Breast cancer usually occurs in women, but men can get it too. Each year in the U.S., more than 200,000 people develop breast cancer and more than 40,000 die from the disease. The good news is, according to the American Cancer Society, death rates from breast cancer have been decreasing since 1989 because of increased awareness and early screening, as well as better treatments. There are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States today.
What Happens to Hair During Chemo
Some people don’t realize that cancer isn’t actually what causes hair loss – it’s chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a combination of powerful drugs used to treat cancer. Chemotherapy works by targeting all rapidly dividing cells in the body. Like cancer cells, the cells in your hair follicles also multiply quickly. So while chemo drugs are targeting cancer cells, they are also inadvertently attacking hair follicle cells.
Chemo does not always cause hair loss. Whether your hair falls out, thins, or stays as is depends on a variety of factors, including which types of drugs are included in your chemotherapy, dosages, and timing of treatments. Hair loss during chemo can be sudden or slow. It can occur as early as the second week of the first cycle of chemotherapy, or it may happen two weeks after the second cycle of chemotherapy. You’ll most likely notice hair on your pillow when you wake up in the morning, extra hair shedding in your hairbrush, or more hair than usual in your shower drain.
Styling Tips for Your Hair During Chemo
What you do with your hair during chemo is really up to you. Some women choose to rock the bald look, others choose to wear a wig, and others go with the ease and warmth of a headscarf. Choose whatever feels right for you, but here are some general tips:
• It may be a good idea to cut your hair short or shave it before treatment. During chemo, hair can fall out in clumps. With shorter hair, the experience is less distressing.
• If you do choose to keep your hair, use gentle shampoos and conditioners during treatment. Avoid drying ingredients like menthol, eucalyptus, and camphor. Do not chemically treat your hair (including dyeing it), until you get the OK from your doctor – usually six months after treatment.
• If your hair thins during treatment but does not completely fall out, try Hair Building Fibers to fill in any sparse areas. Hair Building Fibers can either be sprinkled on the hair directly from the container, or applied with the Spray Applicator. Finish with FiberHold Spray for durability and shine.
• If you choose to wear a wig, the best time to go wig shopping is before you start treatment so that your stylist can create the best match to your natural hair. Many times, insurance will cover the cost of a wig, so make sure you get a prescription from your doctor.
• Many people find simply wearing a hat or scarf is the easiest way to protect themselves from the elements. As hair grows back, the scalp can be itchy. It’s certainly less conspicuous to remove a hat in public to scratch your head than a wig!
Can You Prevent Hair Loss From Chemo?
There is a possibility that the use of cold caps can reduce hair loss during chemotherapy. Cold caps have been used in Europe since the 1970’s to prevent hair loss and are beginning to catch on in the United States. The DigniCap Scalp Cooling System became the first cold cap to be approved by the FDA in late 2015. Cold caps are tightly-fitting, chilled caps that construct blood flow to prevent chemotherapy drugs from reaching the hair follicles. They are chilled to -15 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit and worn before, during, and after each chemotherapy session. Some cold caps need to be kept in a special freezer and rotated out during a treatment session, while others are attached to a cool machine that keeps the cap cold.
Cold caps are not a miracle solution, however. Because the caps are so cold, it’s wise to dress warmly and bring blankets with you. Some patients find them to be uncomfortable and cause headaches. It’s also important to note that some doctors are concerned that cold caps may prevent chemotherapy drugs from reaching cancer cells that may be present in the scalp.
Hair Growth After Chemo
Just as hair loss varies from person to person, so does regrowth. Your hair might start growing back while you’re still receiving chemotherapy treatments, or it may take up to six months for regrowth to occur. New hair might be a different texture, color, or curl than your hair before treatment. Eventually, you hair will go back to the way it was after the effect of chemotherapy on the hair follicles wears off.
As your hair grows out, regular trips to your hairstylist for trims will give your hair shape and make sure you look your best. Even though it might be hard to say goodbye to even the smallest amount of hair, the result will be worth it! Wait to get the go-ahead from your doctor before doing any kind of chemical treatment on your new hair, including coloring it.
Other Resources for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
For more information on caring for your appearance during chemotherapy, visit Look Good, Feel Better, a non-profit organization that helps women with cancer manage the physical appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment.
There are many opportunities to contribute to breast cancer research, support patients, and raise awareness. The Susan G. Komen Foundation, a leader in breast cancer research fundraising, holds Race for the Cure events all over the United States during the month of October. You can view their race dates and donate on their website. For more information about breast health or how to contribute to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, visit NationalBreastCancer.org.
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