Hair loss and cancer

The information on this page will help you to find out more about hair loss after cancer treatment. We'll discuss ways to help you cope with hair loss practically and emotionally, and provide tips on caring for your hair as it regrows.

Hair loss (alopecia)

Hair loss (also called alopecia) occurs as a result of many cancer treatments, including some types of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and biological therapies. Not all treatments for cancer will cause hair loss, and most hair loss is not permanent.

  • Chemotherapy related hair loss usually begins 10-14 days following the first treatment. It can happen later.
  • For some people, hair may just thin, but other people may experience complete hair loss.
  • Some types or doses of chemotherapy may lead to the loss of other hair, such as eyebrows and eyelashes, and body hair, including pubic hair.
  • Radiotherapy causes hair loss only on the part of your body where the radiotherapy beams enter and leave your body (the treatment area). Your hair is likely to grow back after radiotherapy, although it depends on how much radiotherapy you have.
  • It is not always possible to know in advance whether you will definitely lose your hair or whether it will just thin. Your healthcare team should let you know if you may lose your hair, so that you can prepare emotionally and practically.

In most cases your hair will grow back - sometimes even starting to grow before your treatment has ended. Often the texture and colour of your new hair will be slightly different than before.

Preventing hair loss 

Some cancer treatment centres offer a procedure called scalp cooling to try and prevent chemotherapy related hair loss. Scalp cooling works better with some chemotherapy drugs and doses than others. 

If you are interested in scalp cooling, ask your healthcare team about whether it is available, what it involves and whether it would be suitable for you.

Cutting your hair shorter can help to lessen the weight of the hair and slow it falling out (it can also make it less noticeable if/when it does)

Depending on your treatment you may not be able to prevent hair loss. If your treatment is likely to only thin your hair, the following may help to minimise hair loss.

  • Use mild shampoos, soft hairbrushes and low heat settings when using a hairdryer.
  • Sleep on a satin pillowcase to minimise hair tangling.
  • Avoid using hair colour or hair dyes or having a perm.
  • If you decide to dye your hair, seek professional advice. Ensure they know you are having treatment and have a sensitivity test beforehand. Your hair and scalp may react very differently to usual, even if you have used the dye before.
  • Avoid rollers, tongs, hair straighteners or using hair-dryers on the hot setting.
  • Avoid using unproven remedies that promise fast hair growth or prevention of hair loss (and always check with your hospital team before using these).

Managing hair loss

However much you are prepared for it - you may still find the process of hair loss distressing. It can be upsetting when you see hair coming away whenever you brush or wash your hair.

You may choose to have your hair cut short or shaved so that you have some control over the process.  If you have long hair you may want to consider donating your hair to an organisation for use in wigs or hair extensions.

Covering your head

Hair protects our scalp. Try and avoid exposing your head to strong sunlight as it is likely to be more sensitive than usual (this sensitivity may be increased by certain drugs).

Use sun protection creams (check before use if you are having treatment to your scalp) or cover your head with wigs, scarves, bandanas or hats.

A warm hat or snood in cold weather is also a good idea.


Many people choose to cope with visible hair loss by wearing a wig.

Even if you don’t plan to wear one everyday, it can be reassuring to know you have one available. Some people wear a wig for confidence when out and about.

A good range of synthetic wigs is available on the NHS. Your healthcare team can advise you about stockists. In some areas, wigs are free. In others if you need to contribute to the cost.

If you do plan to wear a wig, it helps to visit stockists before you lose your hair. It'll help you find a match for your natural hair. However you may also choose a wig that is completely different to your own hair. The wig stockist or your hairdresser will be able to advise you on styling and caring for your wig.

Alternatives to wigs

If you would prefer not to wear a wig, or would like an alternative to change with, a good range of hats, scarves, head wraps and turbans are available. These are widely available in department stores or online.

Caring for hair as it regrows

When hair regrows after treatment it is often a different shade and texture. It may be either curlier or straighter than before due to lower levels in protein in the hair. This is usually temporary and most hair returns to its usual colour and texture over time.

The changes in levels of protein in hair affects the uptake of hair dye. Your scalp may also be more sensitive to dyes and treatments even if you have used it before. It's advisable not to colour or dye or perm your hair for 6 months after treatment and to seek professional advice when you do.

Your new hair will be delicate, so to protect it as it grows, brush only gently with a soft hairbrush and use the low heat setting if you use a hairdryer.

Managing your emotions

Hair loss can feel a visible sign to the outside world that you have cancer. Going through hair loss can be a deeply personal and upsetting experience.

You may feel a loss of identity along with the loss of hair and feel vulnerable and less confident than usual.

Many people find talking to others with similar experience helpful. Maggie's can help support you through this difficult time.

Maggie’s workshops

Find out more about our workshops. You can check with your local Maggie's when our sessions are, so that you can book a place.

Maggie's hold workshops for managing hair loss. The workshops bring together people dealing with hair loss, to share experiences and learn different ways of managing practical and emotional challenges.

Look Good Feel Better workshops are also held in our centres and offer skincare and beauty advice to boost confidence and body image during or soon after cancer treatment.

Last review: Feb 2022 | Next review: Feb 2023

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