Cancer, as a term, applies to a large group of diseases
characterized by uncontrolled growth and spread of
abnormal cells. The biochemical process, through which
cancerous cells reproduce and grow in the body, is similar
to the way healthy body cells actively reproduce. The
“growing” stage in the hair root cycle, and the abnormal
growth of cancer cells, are very much alike.

It surprises most people to learn that strands of their
“growing” hair are technically lifeless. Real growth only
takes place in the hair follicle (the root). Here a constant
process of cell division is taking place. Certain amino
acids – nature’s building blocks – are taken from the blood
feeding the hair roots, to be joined with the dividing cells.

New cells begin to form into chains. Those chains link up
with other chains. The result is a long fiber. By this time, the
nucleus of the original cell is dead. The amino acids have
formed into a hard keratin.

What is keratin? It is the protein substance that hair and
nails are made from. It is inert or lifeless. It gets pushed
ahead by the newly forming cells in the hair root (follicle).
As it gets pushed farther and farther out, hair appears to
“grow”. And in a sense it really does. From the roots, not at
the ends.

This briefly sums up a very complex chemical process. The
point is, hair growth takes place in the hair root where the
amino acids from the blood first join with the dividing cells.
Significantly, this same process is the one by which all body
cells reproduce themselves.

The hair follicle follows this pattern on a cyclical basis. That
is, the root builds the hair shaft for a period of time, and
rests for a while. Then, it begins producing hair again. The
building state is one of the body’s most active “growing”

Since cancer is a condition of uncontrolled cell growth,
anticancer drug administration (such as chemotherapy)
aims at reducing, or stopping, this abnormal growth.
Medical science continues to gain knowledge of the growth
processes both of normal and abnormal cells. At the same
time, the biochemical and pharmacological members of the
health team have made tremendous progress in learning
more about the specific ways certain drugs act upon cell

Success in selection and administration of drugs, to take
advantage of the vulnerability of cancer cells during their
growth cycle, has been a blessing to millions. Drugs have
become increasingly more useful (along with radiation
and other means) in treating many forms of cancer. It has
become possible to preserve the lives of more people
every day.

Anticancer drugs act on both normal cells and cancerous
cells. All cells are more receptive to the action of drugs
during active cell reproduction. Cells which reproduce
most rapidly are those most likely to be destroyed. Some
normal cells – such as hair follicles – also divide rapidly,
which is why they are also affected by chemotherapy.

Science has not yet discerned how to make today’s
drugs able to distinguish between rapidly reproducing
normal cells and abnormal cells. Your health team will
work with you to carefully balance the benefits with
the risks.
At any one time, about 85% of the hair follicles are
reproducing on the human scalp. This is when hair gets
longer. For this reason, chemotherapy drugs whose chief
purpose is to attack and destroy the rapidly reproducing
cancer cells may have the same effect on your active hair

Various drugs are used in chemotherapy treatment. The
amount of hair loss depends upon the type and dosage
prescribed. Your medical health team can advise you on
what to expect about hair loss. Don’t be afraid to ask
Not all chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss. Best of all, in
all but rare instances, the loss of hair is temporary! When
chemotherapy is completed, you can expect that the hair
follicles will resume their task of processing amino acids
from your blood and building new hair for you.

Radiation therapy is the use of high energy rays to stop
cancer cells from growing and multiplying. Radiation
destroys the ability of all cells within its reach – cancerous
and normal – to grow and reproduce. However, cancer cells
are more sensitive to radiation than normal cells. If radiation
is given just as the cancer cell is about to reproduce – to
divide into two cells – the radiation will prevent the cell
from dividing and it will die.

Radiation is a strong treatment for cancer and can
sometimes affect normal tissue, causing side effects. With
radiation treatments to the head and neck area, one
possible side effect may be hair loss.

You may temporarily lose some or all of your hair (called
alopecia) in the area being treated. In most cases your
hair will start growing again after you’ve finished your

Losing your hair isn’t easy. It may take some adjustment.
Some people choose to cover their heads with a hat, scarf,
or turban. Others prefer to replace their hair. If you choose
to replace your hair, you can choose a fashionable wig, or
you can choose a prosthetic hair system.

Happily, fakey-looking “wigs” are a thing of the past.
Technology has advanced considerably. You can look
the way you like. You can even enhance your self image.
There are different types of wigs available. Human hair
wigs tend to be more expensive and need more servicing.
Some synthetic wigs are less expensive, and some special
synthetic wigs are more expensive. They are easier to style,
wash easily, dry quickly, and need less care. Both can look
very natural because they can be fitted specifically to your

Hair prostheses are the latest technological advance in
replacing lost hair. They are made to meet the specific needs
of the hair loss patient. They are form fitted to become part
of you and designed to be styled as though it were your
own hair. Prosthetic hair washes easily, dries quickly, and
needs minimal care. It’s very natural in appearance and the
most flexible in application.

Obtaining a wig or prosthetic hair system before the
effects of therapy begin to be obvious, is a good idea. Get
one styled to look like your own familiar style, or select
a different style. Some men and women do both. No
one needs know you have lost your hair. A professional
hairstylist, wig salon, or hair clinic, familiar with your type of
hair loss, can fit you with one that defies detection.

A wig or hair prosthesis may be a tax deductible medical
expense, and is sometimes covered by insurance. Contact
both the Internal Revenue Service and your health
insurance company to find out. Some hospitals, clinics, and
organizations have free wig programs or can help offset
the cost. The American Cancer Society, Cancer Information
Service, your medical health team, or a social worker may
be very helpful in this respect.

Fortunately, chemotherapy and radiation therapy act on
the new cells being reproduced, not on the hair follicles
themselves. Hence, hair loss will be temporary in most
cases. You can expect normal hair growth to return when
therapy is discontinued.

Meanwhile, take better-than-routine care of your hair and
scalp during therapy. With the approval of your doctor or
nurse, follow these good hair care guidelines:

    • Shampoo regularly (every 2 to 4 days).
    • Avoid high heat, such as in dryers and combs, in
      drying or styling your hair.
    • Comb or brush gently to minimize undue strain on
       your hair. (Try a baby hairbrush with soft bristles.)
    • Avoid braids, corn-rows or naturals.
    • Do not sleep with rollers in your hair.
    • Consider using a satin pillowcase. Think of the luxury!
      This will reduce friction between your hair and the
    • Above all, stay away from any kind of harsh chemical
      treatments to your hair – such as coloring, permanent
    • Keep your hair and scalp clean with gentle products.
And don’t believe the myth that covering your head
can impede future hair growth. It doesn’t.

We hope this information will help you cope better with
the expected hair loss during therapy by knowing the
facts. When in doubt, consult your medical health team.
And remember, a positive attitude won’t hinder therapy of
any kind.

This information has been provided by International
Hairgoods a division of Aderans Hair Goods, Inc. ©2012
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