Hair loss is one of the most well known side effects of cancer treatment. When chemotherapy drugs travel throughout the body to kill cancer cells, they specifically target rapidly dividing cells, including the hair follicles. This leads to damage of the follicles, making hair fall out. This specific type of hair loss is called anagen effluvium and is normally not permanent. Depending on the types of drugs that are used, the dose, and an individual’s specific sensitivity, many of these drugs may cause anything from a mild thinning of the hair on the scalp to complete loss of hair all over the body. Not all treatments cause hair loss, but if hair loss does occur, it usually begins within 2 to 3 weeks after treatment starts. Additionally, radiation therapy to the head can also cause scalp hair loss and sometimes, depending on the dose of radiation to the head, the hair does not grow back due to scarring.
Many patients undergoing chemotherapy cancer treatment have managed to reduce the amount of their hair loss by using something called a cold cap. This device lowers the temperature of the scalp, reducing the blood flow to the area. Less blood flow means that there is a reduced amount of chemotherapy drug that reaches the hair follicles on the head during treatment. In two small European studies, cold caps proved effective in reducing the amount of hair lost in about 50% of the women that used them, and several U.S. studies are currently underway to examine the safety and effectiveness of this treatment. Cold caps, however, only block certain drugs and are not suitable for use in all types of cancer. Recent hair loss research has determined that vasoconstrictors, drugs that restrict blood flow to the skin, can achieve an effect similar to a cold cap when applied topically to the scalp. These drugs, which have long been used in conjunction with Novocain and similar numbing agents to keep the injected anesthetic in a particular spot, could temporarily cut off the cells in the scalp from the body’s blood supply and prevent the hair follicles from being damaged by chemotherapy. Unfortunately, since both of these treatments would work by isolating the scalp from the cancer treatment, they are not useful in cases where there is a risk that cancer cells could be present in the scalp blood vessels themselves.
Unless you have had very high doses of particular chemotherapy drugs, hair lost as a result of treatment will generally grow back once the course of treatment is over. However, this may take several months and the hair that grows back may be softer and thinner or even a different color or curl than it was previously. At The Griffin Center of Hair Restoration and Research, we have had a great deal of success stimulating regrowth by applying direct visible red light to the scalp. Red light therapy can increase the energy production around the individual hair follicles, waking the cells from dormancy into an active growth phase. We have been using these red light wavelengths for years to improve the survival rate of transplanted grafts after hair restoration surgery, as they have been shown to inhibit inflammation and speed recovery while decreasing redness and swelling. For optimal results, most patients require 20-30 minutes of laser light exposure two to three times per week, either administered through one of our two red light machines within The Griffin Center or with a portable red light cap like the LaserCap”¢ or igrow helmet. Both of these light sources emit 655 nm red visible light to the scalp either through a combination of LED lights and or laser diode lights. In addition, the application of certain topical medications along with prescribed vitamins and minerals may boost hair growth in patients with have experienced anagen effluvium.
If you have questions about any of the hair restoration treatments we offer, please contact The Griffin Center to schedule a consultation. Be sure to also visit our website and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.