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Hair loss after head and neck radiotherapy

Nurse and patients talking about cancer

This page tells you about 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 will only fall out in that area. But you may 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 may want to cut your hair short before the treatment starts as this may make the change less noticeable and easier to cope with.

When your treatment has finished, your hair will usually grow back. But it may 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. In some people it may grow back a different colour, or curly when it used to be straight.

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

The video below 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 when you have hair loss (opens in new window).

You can find the stretchy headwear shown in the video at Buffwear.

Other people prefer to wear a wig until their hair grows back. You can get a wig on the NHS or can buy one privately. We have information about hair loss and wigs.

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


Hair washing tips

During your treatment, you will need to wash your hair carefully so that you don't make the area sore. Use warm or cool water and non perfumed 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 how to care for the skin.


Where to get more information

There are books and booklets about coping with hair loss, some of which are free. Look at our cancer and treatment reading list for details. If you would like more information about hair loss or you would like someone to chat to, contact our cancer information nurses. They would be happy to help.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use CancerChat, our online forum. Or go through My Wavelength. This is a free service that aims to put people with similar medical conditions in touch with each other.

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Updated: 4 July 2012