Radiation Therapy Side Effect: Hair Loss

How will radiation therapy affect my hair?
Hair follicles are very sensitive to radiation, and your treatments may cause you to lose your hair. Most patients will notice hair loss within the treatment area about three weeks after the start of radiation. You may want to have your hair cut short prior to starting radiation therapy. If you decide to wear a wig, you should shop before you have hair loss in order to match color and style.

Hair loss may be temporary or permanent, depending on the amount of radiation received and other treatments you may be receiving, such as chemotherapy. If your hair loss is temporary, it will probably re-grow about 3 to 6 months after your treatment is complete. You may notice that the re-growth of hair is thinner or a different texture.

How will radiation therapy affect my scalp?
Your scalp (the skin over your head) is sensitive to radiation, especially after hair loss. Your skin may become pink, tender or inflamed -- much like a sunburn. After two or three weeks of treatment, your scalp may become dry and itchy. Notify your health care provider and he or she will give you cream to use as directed. Do not use home remedies, as they may interfere with treatment.

A dry, irritated scalp is a temporary condition and will begin to improve about two weeks after the treatment is complete. If necessary, medication can be prescribed to relieve discomfort and itching. To minimize scalp reaction throughout your treatment, follow these suggestions:

  • Avoid frequent shampooing. Use a mild shampoo (such as baby shampoo) without any perfumes.
  • Wash your scalp with warm water only. Avoid rubbing and DO NOT SCRATCH. Pat dry with a soft towel.
  • Avoid excessively combing or brushing your hair.
  • Avoid using hair spray, oils or creams.
  • Avoid using heat sources (including hair dryers, rollers or curling irons).
  • Do not perm or color your hair until about four weeks after your treatment is complete.
  • Protect your head from the sun, cold and wind by wearing a head covering (such as a cap, turban, scarf or hat made of cotton or a cotton blend).

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional written health information, please contact the Health Information Center at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771 or visit www.clevelandclinic.org/health/.

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