Radiation therapy is a common treatment for cancer, but it can also cause hair loss in the area being treated. While radiation to the head can cause you to lose some or all of your head hair, radiation applied to other parts of the body will not cause hair on your head to fall out. Hair loss is a common side effect of cancer treatment, and it can occur as a side effect of chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy, or a stem cell (bone marrow) transplant. The best way to find out if you are likely to experience hair loss due to cancer treatment is to talk to your cancer care team.
They can provide strategies that help others cope with hair loss, such as wearing a wig or scarf. Radiation affects cancer cells and healthy cells, including cells that make hair grow. This can cause hair loss (alopecia). In radiation, only hair that is in the radiation zone will be affected by hair loss.
Very rarely, with radiation, there may be an area where the hair is permanently thinner. Talk to your healthcare team to find out if the cancer treatment you will receive causes hair loss. Hair loss can occur where the radiation beam leaves the body (for example, at the back of the neck), as well as where it enters the body. Ask your cancer specialist or radiologist to show you exactly where your hair can fall out.
Most people find that their hair begins to fall out in the area where they receive radiation therapy, about 2 to 3 weeks after the first radiation therapy session. There is nothing you can do to prevent hair loss when you receive radiation therapy, but there are ways to control it.