Chemotherapy and Hair Loss – Why Does it Happen?

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with cancer and about to undergo chemotherapy or another treatment option where you may lose your hair, you may be wondering ‘Why does chemotherapy cause hair loss?” and ‘Will it happen to me?’. It’s very normal to have many thoughts, concerns and worries running through your mind, including whether or not you will lose your hair.

 Woman undergoing cancer treatment sitting on a white couch in white clothes wearing pink cancer pin - looking towards side of image

Firstly, you may be wondering ‘will I lose my hair?’

Hair loss due to cancer treatment is different for each person. Some people may only lose a little hair (hair thinning), some may lose it all slowly, some may lose it quickly and some might not lose any hair at all. It depends on what cancer treatment you’re receiving.

Not all cancer treatments will cause hair loss, but unfortunately chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause it. Other treatments such as hormone or targeted therapy can cause your hair thin out or grow slowly.

There are a number of different types of chemotherapy treatments and whether you lose all or some of your hair is impacted by factors such as the type, dose and cycle/timing of chemotherapy medicines you’re given.


Why does chemotherapy cause hair loss?

Chemotherapy treatments target rapidly dividing cells, both cancer cells and healthy cells. Hair follicles are some of your body’s fastest growing cells, so they can end up targeted (along with the cancer cells). Due to this, hair loss can occur anywhere on your body, such as your head, arms, legs, underarms, eyebrows and eyelashes.

If you are undergoing radiation treatment, the hair loss usually occurs directly in the site being treated.

Your doctor will be able to give you advice and expectations related to your own circumstances.


Will my hair grow back?

Your hair will grow back, but it may be a different colour than it was before, or it may be thicker or finer, or even curly. On average it can take between 4 to 12 months for a full head of hair to grow back. And usually it will return to what it was before chemotherapy after some time has passed.

If your hair loss is due to radiation treatment and you lose the hair in the location of the treatment, regrowth may start within a few weeks after the last treatment. While hair usually grows back after radiation, some people may experience patchy growth and in some areas the hair loss may be permanent.

If you or a loved one needs help while coping with cancer, cancer treatments and hair loss, there is support available through Cancer Councils relevant to your state or territory and through community support organisations. There are also many Facebook support groups which will enable you to ask questions and listen to others experiences on the topic of hair loss and chemotherapy or other cancer treatments.


To read Gill’s hair loss story after her breast cancer journey, see our post here.

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