Hair Loss from Ovarian Cancer Treatment
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2021 | Last updated: April 2022
Ovarian cancer treatment can have a variety of side effects. One of these possible side effects is hair loss, also called alopecia. Hair loss related to cancer treatment can be caused by some chemotherapy medicines or other drugs. If radiation is given to the skull, there may be hair loss in certain areas.
While some people may experience hair loss during treatment, others may experience thinning of the hair. This can depend on the specific drug and dosage used during treatment. Hair loss is not limited to the head. It can also occur all over the body, including eyelashes and eyebrows.
Why does hair loss occur?
Chemotherapy drugs can affect all cells in the body, especially fast-growing cells like cancer cells. However, your body also contains fast-growing, non-cancerous cells in the lining of the mouth, the stomach, and hair follicles. This is why you may lose your hair, have stomach upset, or get mouth sores during treatment. These side effects are usually temporary.1
Hair loss can be gradual or sudden, and you may lose all or part of your hair. It usually comes out in clumps, without a set or overall uniform pattern.1
Hair loss often occurs in the second or third week after your first chemotherapy treatment. However, it may start later in some people.1
Steps to take before treatment
There is no way to fully prevent hair loss due to cancer treatment. Some people have tried to prevent it with things like ice caps or bands around the head, but these methods have not been proven to be effective. Plus, they may interfere with the effectiveness of treatment in that area.1
Ask your doctor if a cooling cap might be safe to use with your treatment, but know that you may still experience hair loss.2
Before you start treatment, talk with your treatment team about if and when you might expect to lose your hair. Before treatment starts, you might consider cutting your hair short or even shaving your head prior to losing your hair. Some people find this less distressing than having their hair fall out.2
If you plan on trying a wig, buy it before treatment starts or at the very beginning. You might need it adjusted after losing hair, so ask if the wig can be refitted as treatment progresses.2
Many insurance providers cover the cost of a wig for people undergoing cancer treatment. You may need to ask your doctor to write a prescription for a “cranial prosthesis”. Speak to your doctor and insurance provider if you have questions about coverage.2
Scalp and hair care during and after treatment
Your scalp might be very sensitive or itchy during treatment, even after your hair falls out. Gently wash and brush your hair using a wide-toothed comb. You can wash and condition every 2 to 4 days, using baby shampoo or another mild shampoo. Using a conditioner with sunscreen can help protect your scalp.2,3
Other ways to care for your scalp and hair include:3
- Cover your scalp and do not expose it to the sun
- Keep your head covered in the summer and winter
- Sleep on a satin or silk pillowcase since these materials are smoother than cotton and can prevent tangling of the hair you still have.
- Ask your hairdresser for any recommendations for gentle hair care products
Some things to avoid using on your hair during treatment include:3
- Hair spray, hair dye or bleach, or perming
- Clips, hair ties, barrettes
- Hairdryers, curling irons, hair straighteners
- Rubber bathing or swim caps
You may choose to wear a wig, turban, scarf, or hat. There are many options available, and you can try a variety of head coverings that work for you. Some people have fun with different colored wigs and hairstyles or hats. Others may choose more natural, understated looks. It is your choice to decide what you are most comfortable with.
Talk with your doctor if you have questions about hair or scalp care tips.
When will my hair grow back?
Hair regrowth can vary among people. Some people find their hair starts growing back before treatment ends, while others may not see any regrowth until treatment ends.2
Your scalp may be tender as your hair grows back in, so continue to be gentle with your scalp and hair care routine. Your hair may also have a different texture or color. While it is rare, some people find that their hair does not grow back as full as it was before treatment.3