At the back of every woman’s mind is the question “What would I do if I lost my hair due to chemo?” Here’s what two top hair loss specialists have to say.
Chemotherapy and your hair
According to Beverly Hills hair restoration surgeon Dr. Gary Perrault, “Hair loss can be a side effect of chemo but not all chemotherapy treatments cause hair loss. The drug attacks fast-growing cells throughout the body, so it attacks malignancies and often your hair follicles, too. Once chemo is out of your system, the hair grows back. However, if there is an underlying case of female pattern baldness, and chemo can sometimes advance that pattern. If you’ve had a transplant and lose your hair to chemo the new hair does grow back too — it’s now your hair!”
Dr. Catherine A. Orentreich of the Orentreich Medical Group in New York City is a hair loss specialist who says, “I’m always amazed at how hair grows back after chemo. Of course, if you have chemo at 65, the ability to grow back a thick head of hair is diminished. It’s not the same as when you’re 40 or 50. But it does grow back.”
Health insurance may cover the cost of your wig
Your doctor can advise you about the probability of hair loss from your specific treatment. If it’s inevitable, ask your oncologist for a letter of recommendation or a prescription for a “hair prosthesis” or “cranial hair prosthesis,” not a “wig.” The exact wording is crucial in cases where your insurance company covers the cost of wigs for medical purposes only. Check with your carrier. Since hair loss starts seven to twenty one days after you start treatment, you may want to cut your hair progressively shorter and ultimately shave it to make the process easier to cope with and provide a sense of control. Six months after your last treatment, you usually have hair back again.
Achieving comfort and a natural look
Since chemo can not only cause hair loss but leave you with a sensitive scalp, the type of wig or head covering you choose is important. Some women prefer wearing patterned scarves (dig out those old Hermes and Puccis!), colorful bandanas, or baseball caps on the sticky humid days when a wig might be uncomfortable. If you work and plan on wearing a wig for total camouflage, you’ll be aiming for a realistic look. Stay close to your natural color and style, but maybe go shorter — say, to a mid-neck or shoulder-grazing length if your usual hair is very long. Look for layers, bangs, movement and a look that feels like you. Wigs at cancer-patient focused websites such as tlcdirect.org start at around $46 for monofilament fiber wig that is supposed to feel lighter and be easy to wear.
• The company Hair U Wear manufactures contemporary hair additions including the Raquel Welch Signature Collection. Each year this duo donates $1 million worth of wigs to the American Cancer Society, which are then distributed to patients nationwide via wig banks operated by The American Cancer Society. You can also go to hairuwear.com to locate a dealer and salon near you.
• Check your local chapter of the American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, since both provide free wigs.
• So do CancerCare, a non-profit organization (cancercare.org), Breast Cancer Network of Strength (networkofstrength.org), and the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program (dukehealth.org).
• The website Chemosavvy.com has several brands and styles of wigs to choose from and baseball caps with falls attached for more casual days.
Synthetic vs. human hair wigs
• Some synthetics are great and serve their purpose effectively, but be wary of ones that are too shiny (they look less authentic) and check whether the style is locked in during construction or if the wig can be restyled.
• Synthetics are often sewn in rows making them hard to part or style to blend easily around the face. If you are ordering a wig online be sure the description allows you these options.
• Be cautious around heat with synthetic wigs since some can be ruined by a blast of heat from opening an oven door or the steam from a boiling tea kettle let alone a flat iron or blow-dryer.
• Pre-fabricated human hair wigs are more expensive but can be shampooed and styled just like real hair, but they do require more care.
• Custom-made wigs of human hair are the most expensive of all and are an option for women with long-term extensive hair loss with no option of re-growth.
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