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Mesothelioma and Hair Loss

Hair loss is common for patients with cancer, including those with mesothelioma. Though it does not cause physical pain or discomfort, hair loss is one of the more difficult side effects for patients to deal with. While this is particularly true for women, men also struggle with this outward sign of their cancer. Cancer hair loss is typically caused by chemotherapy. Since most patients undergo this treatment, most lose some or all their hair.

Mesothelioma patients should be aware that they will lose their hair and be prepared to work through this loss. Some steps can minimize hair loss, strengthen thinning hair, and help regrow it after treatment. Wigs, hats, and other covers can also hair loss during treatment.

What Causes Hair Loss?

It is not cancer that causes mesothelioma patients to lose their hair but the treatments. Chemotherapy is the main cause of hair loss. Chemotherapy drugs are injected directly into the bloodstream, allowing them to circulate throughout the body. As they circulate, these powerful drugs target and damage any cells that grow rapidly and divide often. This includes cancer cells as well as healthy cells like those around hair follicles. This can happen anywhere on the body, not just on the head. Hair loss from chemotherapy is usually temporary and some drugs are more likely to cause it than others.

Radiation therapy can also cause hair loss, but usually only at the site where the beam is centered. Radiation uses a beam of high-energy to penetrate skin and other tissues to kill cells in the underlying tumor. As the radiation moves through healthy tissue, it can cause damage, including damage to hair follicles in the skin. This can result in hair loss. People with brain cancer may lose hair on their heads because of this treatment. Hormone treatments and some other targeted therapies can also cause thinning or lost hair.

Minimizing Hair Loss and Keeping Hair and Scalp Healthy

How much hair a patient loses depends on the individual and the treatment. Some steps may prevent or minimize hair loss and hair thinning, but many work better for some patients than others. No preventative treatment is foolproof or guaranteed.

Using gentle shampoos, like baby shampoo, and avoiding harsh treatments and over-styling will help you hold on to your hair longer. Use soft brushes and treat your hair gently. Pat it dry instead of blow drying and don’t use any styling tools.

Many patients choose to face the problem head on and cut their hair short before chemotherapy. Many prefer to shave their heads and embrace hair loss as part of the process. It’s  also a way to be more comfortable. With less hair or no hair, it is important to protect the scalp. It may become dry or itchy, so talk to your doctor about what products to use. Protect your scalp from the sun, too; cover up when you go outside.

Cooling Caps to Prevent Hair Loss

Scalp hypothermia is a tested clinical strategy that prevents hair loss. Cooling the scalp with ice packs and cooling caps before, during, and after chemotherapy sessions may help prevent hair loss. The cool temperature constricts blood flow, preventing some of the chemotherapy drugs from reaching the scalp and affecting hair follicles. Cooling may also slow cell division in the follicles. Since chemotherapy targets rapidly-dividing cells, this method can also prevent drugs from causing hair loss.

Research results for scalp hypothermia are mixed. The most technologically advanced cooling caps are controlled by computers. These high-tech caps seem to have the greatest effect on hair loss prevention. Recent studies with women receiving treatment for breast cancer found that approximately half of those who used the cooling caps lost only half of their hair.

Promoting Hair Re-Growth

For most mesothelioma patients who undergo chemotherapy, hair loss is inevitable. Some techniques promote hair re-growth after treatment. One such treatment is the drug minoxidil. Also known by the brand name Rogaine, this medication treats hair loss in men and women. Rogaine is applied topically before, during, and after treatment to speed the growth process.

Anything you can do that is healthy for your hair will help you re-grow stronger hair more quickly. Eat a healthy diet rich in protein and vitamins B, C, and E. Wash your new hair in cooler water, as hot water can damage hair follicles. Your new hair will be fragile and delicate, so treat it gently.

Wigs and Other Head Covers

Many mesothelioma patients choose to use some kind of head cover until their hair grows back. A wig is one choice, but you can also use a bandanna, scarf, or hat. Experts recommend you choose a look you like before treatment, especially with wigs. A wig may be covered by your health insurance, so shop to find one that feels comfortable and is styled the way you like. If you don’t enjoy wearing a wig, there are other options. Try different ways of wearing fashionable scarves and bandannas. Check out websites for tutorials and suggestions.

Coping with Hair Loss

Hair loss is an uncomfortable and very public side effect of mesothelioma treatment. This can be difficult to cope with, especially if you had long hair or if you placed a lot of value on your hair. Cancer support groups can help you cope with all aspects of treatment, including hair loss. Some patients also benefit from one-on-one counseling.

Remember that chemotherapy-related hair loss is almost never permanent. Therefore, one of the best strategies for dealing with hair loss is to be patient. Also, be aware that your hair may not look the same when it does grow back. You may find it has a different texture or color.

Hair loss is a part of fighting back against mesothelioma and other cancers. Remember you are not alone in losing your hair and that it will come back. Try strategies to minimize hair loss and promote re-growth. Also, you can try to cover your head in fashionable ways that make you feel comfortable and attractive. Remember that losing your hair is a sign that you have been fighting cancer. No one will look down on you for that.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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