Mesothelioma and Hair Loss
Hair loss is a common experience for patients with all types of cancer, including mesothelioma, and although it does not cause physical pain or discomfort, it is one of the more difficult side effects for patients. This is especially true for women, but men too struggle with hair loss as a result of cancer and its treatments. Cancer hair loss is typically caused by chemotherapy and most patients undergo this treatment, so most experience some degree of thinning and often complete hair loss.
It is important for mesothelioma patients to know what to expect when it comes to hair loss and to be able to come to terms with it. There are also concrete steps that can be taken to minimize hair loss, to help regrow it once treatment is done, and to strengthen thinning hair. Wigs, hats, and other covers can also be used to hide the loss of hair during treatment.
What Causes Hair Loss?
It is not cancer that causes mesothelioma patients to lose their hair; it is the treatments. Chemotherapy is the main cause of hair loss. Most chemotherapy drugs are injected into the bloodstream, which allows them to circulate throughout the body, targeting and damaging any cells that grow rapidly and divide often. This includes cancer cells but also certain types of health cells including 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 the effect than others.
Radiation therapy can also cause hair loss, but typically only at the site at which the beam is centered. This therapy involves positioning a beam of high-energy radiation at a place on the body. The radiation penetrates the skin and other tissues and ends up killing cells in the underlying tumor. As the radiation move through healthy tissue, it can cause damage, including damage to hair follicles in the skin, resulting in hair loss. People with brain cancer may lose the hair on their heads because of this treatment. Some other types of treatment that may cause hair to thin or hair loss over long-term treatments are hormone and certain targeted therapies.
Minimizing Hair Loss and Keeping Hair and Scalp Healthy
How much hair a patient will lose because of treatment depends on the individual and the treatment being used. There are steps you can take to try to prevent or minimize hair loss and hair thinning. They may work very well for some patients and not as well for others. No preventative treatment is foolproof or guaranteed to work.
You may not have a lot of control over your hair loss, but some things you do or don’t do will give you back some of that control. For instance, using gentle shampoos, like baby shampoo, and hair products and avoiding harsh treatments or over-styling will help you hold on to your hair for longer during treatment. Use soft brushes and treat your hair gently. Pat it dry instead of blow drying and don’t use any styling implements, like curling irons.
Another great way to take control of hair loss is to get ahead of it. Many patients choose to transition to a shorter hairstyle ahead of chemotherapy. And, as hair begins to fall out, many prefer to shave their heads. It is a way of embracing hair loss as part of the process, but also a way to be more comfortable. With less 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. You will also need to protect your scalp from the sun, so cover up when you go outside.
Cooling Caps to Prevent Hair Loss
One tested clinical strategy for preventing hair loss is called scalp hypothermia. Cooling the scalp, often with ice packs and cooling caps, before, during, and after chemotherapy sessions may help prevent some hair loss. This technique may be effective because the cool temperature constricts blood flow in the scalp’s blood vessels. This would prevent some of the chemotherapy drugs from getting to the scalp and affecting hair follicles. The cooling may also slow down the division of cells in the follicles and chemotherapy drugs are attracted to cells that are rapidly dividing.
Scalp hypothermia has been studied and the results are mixed. The most up-to-date cooling caps, which are controlled by computers, seem to have the greatest positive effect on preventing hair loss. Recent studies with women going through treatment for breast cancer have found that about half of those who use the cooling caps lose only half of their hair.
Promoting Hair Re-Growth
For many patients with mesothelioma who undergo chemotherapy, hair loss is inevitable. There are some ways to help speed and promote the re-growth of hair after treatment though. These include the use of minoxidil. Also known by the brand name Rogaine, this is a medication that treats hair loss in men and women. Rogaine is a topical medication and applying it before, during, and after treatment may help speed up the process of re-growing hair.
Anything you can do that is healthy for your hair will help you re-grow stronger hair more quickly. This includes eating a healthy diet rich in protein and vitamins B, C, and E. Wash your new hair in cooler water, as hot water can cause some hair follicle damage. 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 during and after treatment, until hair grows back. A wig is one choice, but you can also use a bandana, scarf, or hat. Experts recommend that you choose a look you like before treatment, especially with wigs. A wig may be covered by your health insurance, so shop around and find one you like and that feels comfortable. Find other options too, in case you don’t like the feel of the wig. Try out scarves and bandanas and talk to your hair stylist about how to use them and make them look right. Check out websites like Look Good, Feel Better, for tutorials and suggestions.
Coping with Hair Loss
Hair loss is a very uncomfortable side effect of mesothelioma treatment because it is a drastic appearance change. This can be difficult to cope with, especially if you had long hair or you placed a lot of value on your hair and how it made you look. Support groups with other cancer patients can be a powerful way to cope with all aspects of cancer treatment, including hair loss. Some patients also benefit from one-on-one counseling to help cope with a variety of issues related to cancer.
Most of all, remember that chemotherapy-related hair loss is almost never permanent. Your hair will grow back, so one of the best strategies for dealing with hair loss is just to be patient. Also be aware that your hair may not look the same when it comes back. You may find it has a different texture or color.
Hair loss is a part of fighting back against mesothelioma and other cancers for most patients. Remember that you are not alone in losing your hair, and remember that it will come back. Try strategies to minimize hair loss and promote re-growth, and cover your head in a way that makes you feel comfortable in the meantime. Also remember that losing your hair is a sign that you have been fighting cancer and no one will look down on you for that.
Page edited by Dave Foster
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