Radiotherapy hair loss

External radiotherapy can cause hair loss in the area where you are having treatment. You might also have some hair loss on the opposite side, where the radiation beam leaves the body. This is called the exit site.

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.

For some people, the hair doesn’t grow back. Permanent hair loss is more likely after high doses of radiotherapy. Your doctor will talk to you before you start radiotherapy about what to expect and if permanent hair loss is likely.

Hair loss after radiotherapy to the brain or head and neck

Radiotherapy to the brain will cause some hair loss. If you have radiotherapy to a particular part of your head, your hair only falls out in that area. Whether or not your hair grows back depends on the type of radiotherapy you're having. For example, if you have whole brain radiotherapy to treat your symptoms it's likely that your hair will grow back. But treatment to try to cure a brain tumour uses a high dose of radiation, so permanent hair loss is more common. 

Radiotherapy to the head and neck can cause hair loss, including facial hair. This may be permanent. It depends on the position of the radiotherapy beams and the treatment dose.

This video shows people affected by cancer talking about hair loss as a side effect of radiotherapy. The video is around 1 and a half minutes long.

Head coverings or wigs

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. It is about 7 and a half minutes long.

Some people prefer to wear a wig until their hair grows back. You can get a wig on the NHS or buy one privately. Speak to your radiotherapy team who can advise you on any wigs, hats or scarves they sell in the hospital.

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

Sometimes you can have small patches of no hair or thinning hair. To cover these small patches up you might want to use extensions clips. Or you may want to change your hairstyle to help cover these areas better.

Worries about treatment side effects

You may feel anxious about radiotherapy side effects and this is normal. It can help to talk through any worries you have with your doctor, nurse or radiographer.

  • External Beam Therapy (Radiotherapy in Practice) Third Edition
    Peter Hoskin
    Oxford University Press, 2019

  • Devita, Hellman and Rosenberg's Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (12th edition)
    VT Devita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer Health, 2023

  • Walter and Miller's Textbook of Radiotherapy: Radiation Physics, Therapy and Oncology (8th edition)
    R Symonds, J A Mills and A Duxbury
    Elsevier, 2019

Last reviewed: 
24 May 2024
Next review due: 
24 May 2027

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