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Does radiotherapy cause hair loss? Is it permanent?

Does radiotherapy cause hair loss?

Does radiotherapy cause hair loss? Given that radiotherapy is a treatment that many patients suffering from cancer must go through, it is normal that one of the first questions that arise when facing this treatment is whether hair loss from radiotherapy is something common; especially, because this treatment should not be confused with chemotherapy, which also causes hair loss, although in a different way and with different consequences.

People who are interested in the cost of a hair transplant sometimes are looking for solutions after losing their hair because of a cancer treatment. For this reason, we want to provide answers to all those patients who have queries about several issues: what is the relationship between radiotherapy and hair loss, why hair falls out and how much is lost, is radiotherapy alopecia definitive or not, how much time does it take until hair grows back...

Does radiotherapy cause hair loss?

Will radiotherapy cause hair loss? Radiation therapy is a treatment used in oncology in which ionising radiation – that is, X-rays, photons and protons - applied locally with the aim of destroying cancer cells, are used; since healthy cells are more resistant to this type of radiation than cancer cells, it is a therapy that makes it possible to reduce or eliminate malignant tumours locally, causing less damage to healthy tissues. However, in some cases it is necessary to combine radiation therapy with surgery, or even with chemotherapy.

Answering to the question: yes, hair loss after radiotherapy can occur. However, unlike chemotherapy (in which hair falls out all over the body, no matter where the treatment is applied), radiation therapy usually makes hair fall out only in the treated area: that is, If radiation is applied to the chest, we will lose hair in that area, but hair on the head will not become affected. However, the effects also depend on the patient, the dose of radiation administered, etc.

Is hair loss from radiation permanent? 

Does hair grow back after radiation therapy? Hair loss caused by this treatment is usually temporary, especially in low doses of radiation, although it must be taken into account that the reaction in each patient is different. However, sometimes hair loss is permanent after radiation therapy: this is common especially when patient has to undergo multiple sessions and gets high doses of radiation, which ends up damaging hair follicles until they die, so they can no longer generate new hair.

But, why does radiation therapy cause hair loss? We mentioned before that healthy cells are more resistant to ionising radiation; however, they can also become affected, especially in tissues that have a high reproduction rate such as nails or hair, as studies have shown. In the case of hair, radiation can cause it to become weak or thin, and in some cases a complete hair loss

Hair on scalp is most affected when radiation is applied directly to treat tumours in head or neck, resulting in what is called radiation-induced alopecia. In these cases, the irradiated area presents a loss of hair in the form of patches, with an appearance similar to that of alopecia areata. Hair loss may also appear on the opposite side where radiation exits, although in a milder way. 

It must be taken into account that, in addition to hair loss, the irradiated area becomes especially sensitive, so we must take special care and use - for example - special soaps or shampoos, avoiding rubbing the treated area and protecting it when we go out. Also, if the radiation treatment is applied on scalp, hair cannot be dyed during radiation therapy without consulting your doctor first. 

How long does hair take to grow back after radiotherapy?

How long does it take for hair to grow back after radiotherapy? The answer is 3 to 6 months, although there will be changes in texture, shape (normally regrowth hair is curlier) and even colour. While hair grows back, you may choose to wear a scarf, a cap, or even prosthetic hair.

If hair loss caused by radiotherapy is irreversible, it is possible to resort to a hair transplant to repopulate those areas where alopecia has become permanent, but always once the radiotherapy treatment has completely finished: otherwise, new hair implants will become affected by radiation and will fall out, too.

Once we have answered to the question “Does radiotherapy cause hair loss?”, if hair falls out with radiotherapy and we want to recover our hair, the most important thing is to consult our doctor or oncologist, and that an expert in hair treatments carries out a thorough diagnosis of our case. At Clinicana we have the best professionals and we are the best hair transplant clinic in Turkey, specialised in all hair treatments. Request a free consultation, and ask us for a free, no obligation estimate for your treatment.

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