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Hair loss

Radiotherapy to the head can cause hair loss. How much hair you lose depends on the size of the area being treated and the dose of radiotherapy.

Changes to your hair

Your hair only falls out in the area 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 if your doctor tells you that you'll lose a lot of hair. This may make the change less noticeable and easier to cope with.

You might start to lose your hair about 2 or 3 weeks after you begin treatment. It usually starts to grow back once you finish your course of radiotherapy. 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. 

Let your radiographer know if your skin gets sore. They can 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: 
04 Feb 2019
  • Devita, Hellman and Rosenberg's Cancer Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition)
    VT Devita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer Health, 2015

  • Walter and Miller's Textbook of Radiotherapy: Radiation Physics, Therapy and Oncology (7th edition)
    R Symonds and others
    Elsevier LTD, 2012

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