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Hair loss and head and neck radiotherapy

Radiotherapy to the head always causes some hair loss. How much depends on where you are being treated.

Your hair only falls out at the particular part of your head or neck where you are having treatment. You might also have some hair loss on the opposite side of the head or neck, where the radiotherapy beams pass through. This is called the exit site. 

You might want to cut your hair short before the treatment starts. This may make the change less noticeable and easier to cope with. But speak to your doctor beforehand to check on how much hair you might lose.

When your treatment finishes, your hair usually grows back. But it might not be quite as thick as before and in some people can be patchy.

The more radiotherapy you have had, the longer your hair will take to grow back. It may grow back a different colour, or curly when it used to be straight.

Men may have a permanent loss of beard growth depending on the position of the radiotherapy beams and the treatment dose.

Hair washing tips

During your treatment, you need to wash your hair carefully so that you don't make the area sore. Use warm or cool water. Be gentle and use a non perfumed shampoo or baby shampoo only.

It is best not to use a hair dryer but to gently dry your hair with a soft towel. Or you can let your hair dry naturally. 

If the skin gets sore let your radiographer know and they will advise you on how to care for your skin.

Head coverings

You might like to cover your head with a soft hat or scarf to protect the exposed skin and keep your head warm. 

The video shows you the different types of hats and scarves you can wear when you have hair loss.

Some people prefer to wear a wig until their hair grows back. You can get a wig on the NHS or can buy one privately.

Speak to your radiotherapy staff who can advise you on any wigs, hats or scarves they sell in the hospital.

Last reviewed: 
14 Mar 2016
  • De Vita, Hellman, and Rosenberg's Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (9th edition)
    De Vita, V.T., Lawrence, T.S. and Rosenberg S.A.
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2011

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