Hair loss and head and neck radiotherapy | Cancer Research UK
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Hair loss and head and neck radiotherapy

Nurse and patients talking about cancer

Find out how radiotherapy to the head and neck area may affect your hair. There is information about


Hair loss from head and neck radiotherapy

Radiotherapy to the head always causes some hair loss. If you are having treatment to a particular part of your head or neck, your hair only falls out in that area. 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.


View a transcript of the video showing the different types of hats and scarves you can wear (opens in new window).

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.


Where to get more information

Find out about

External radiotherapy

Side effects of radiotherapy

Stretchy headwear at Buffwear

Getting a wig and coping with hair loss

For general information and support

Contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 (Open 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday)

Share experiences on our online forum – Cancer Chat

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Updated: 14 March 2016