If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with cancer and are exploring or currently undergoing treatment that may lead to hair loss, the matter of first importance is to talk to your doctor. Try making a list of all your fears and concerns and letting your physician explain the details of your medical situation to your satisfaction. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to face the hard decisions ahead.
Remember, not all forms of cancer treatment lead to hair loss. For those methods that do lead to hair loss, there are many techniques and methods that can help prevent and/or minimize potential hair loss.
Chemotherapy is a common cancer treatment method which relies on anti-cancer medications to destroy rapidly dividing cancer cells. However, in addition to cancer cells, chemotherapy affects the growth of some healthy cells, such as hair follicles, which under normal circumstances would divide rapidly. As a result, chemotherapy can often cause alopecia or hair loss. Don’t worry—your body is stronger than you may realize: your normal cells will begin healing and regenerating almost immediately after chemotherapy is completed. Remember, not all chemotherapy drugs will cause you to lose your hair, and some will cause varying degrees of hair loss as opposed to total hair loss. The important thing is to talk to your doctor and acquire as much information as possible regarding your treatment regimen.
Radiation Therapy or Radiotherapy
Radiation Therapy is another form of cancer treatment that can cause hair loss. However, this hair loss is usually localized to the specific area that has been treated. As with chemotherapy, this hair is highly likely to grow back after your treatments have ceased, though it may be thinner than it was previously.
Other forms of cancer treatment, such as biological and hormonal therapies, are also known to cause hair loss, though less severely and in fewer instances. Though the hair often becomes dry and brittle, most patients undergoing these types of treatments sustain minimal hair loss and thinning.
Minimizing Hair Loss
Many cancer survivors who have been through rigorous chemotherapy or radiation therapy have found that a few preventative measures can help reduce the amount and/or expediency of hair loss. Some suggested tips include:
- During treatment, your hair may become brittle and stiff, and your roots may soften. Cutting your hair very short prior to beginning chemotherapy treatment will decrease the amount of weight and pressure that is applied to the roots. Also, if you do begin experiencing hair loss, losing short strands of hair is less traumatic than losing large clumps of long locks, and less noticeable.
- Cooling the scalp following chemotherapy treatments is a common technique that is designed to reduce the amount of chemotherapy drugs absorbed by the hair follicles by reducing the amount of blood flow to the scalp. You can use anything from a cool towel to a gel wrap purchased at a pharmacy. Unfortunately, these caps are only known to assist in hair retention for certain types of chemotherapy and other treatments. Remember to ask your doctor about which types of solutions might work for you.
If it's requested, many insurance companies provide either partial or full refunds for a "full cranial prosthesis" due to alopecia, chemotherapy treatment, psoriasis, trichotillomania, or other non-pre-existing medical conditions. Cranial prostheses are custom-made wigs specifically designed for patients who have lost their hair due to medical conditions.
You are probably already well aware that dealing with insurance companies can be difficult, so contact yours as soon as possible. Different insurance companies will have divergent policies regarding coverage for a cranial prosthesis, and many will require a prescription from your doctor. You should talk with your doctor regarding a prosthesis and see if they have any advice from working with other patients with the same insurance provider. Whatever provider you use, be sure to contact them regarding your "cranial prosthesis" (don't say "wig" when talking to your insurence provider) prior to purchasing a wig. Unfortunately, Medicare and Medicaid do not cover the costs of a cranial prosthesis at this time, and most wig retailers will not work with the insurance company on your behalf, so it is important for you to gather these facts on your own and make the best decisions for your needs.
Before You Buy
Before you begin browsing options for wigs, the most important thing you can do to prevent hair loss is to care for the hair you have. By caring for your hair in the gentlest way possible, you may be able to avoid or limit hair loss.
Some suggested techniques include:
- Using a wide toothed brush or comb.
- Avoid using straightening irons or curling irons
- Use gentle shampoos and conditioners
- Wear a hair net while sleeping
- Limit using hair styling products. Spend styling efforts on a great short hair-cut instead
Most wigs fit better and wear more comfortably when you have some existing, natural hair to clip to and integrate into the wig. So, don’t worry if your natural hair starts getting a little thin—this is an opportunity for style in disguise.
Types of Wigs
If you have decided that a wig is the right solution for you, then you are owed congratulations on entering the hidden world of fun and frisky wig fashion! Wigs are a long-guarded secret of the most fashion-forward women in society.
There are different types of wigs to suit each person’s need. Wigs come in a variety of pricing, styling, and compositional options, and extend to further options for accessories or add-on pieces. Just remember—your cancer or illness is not what defines you. You’re in control of your life and you can have whatever kind of lifestyle you want. At the end of the day, your choice in wigs should suit that lifestyle and fit your personal needs. So, which is the best type of wig for you?
Human Hair Wigs
People often associate Human Hair wigs with higher quality and greater potential for daily use. Human hair wigs will be softer to the touch and feel more natural, because… they’re real hair! Human Hair wigs are terrific for day-to-day use, can be styled much like your natural hair (although we recommend getting a professional stylist to do this for you), and can even be dyed or highlighted (again, consult a professional).
However, Human Hair wigs may or may not be the best fit for you. They are typically much more expensive than synthetic wigs, with prices ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Also, as you would expect from a natural hair product, Human Hair wigs require a greater degree of maintenance than synthetic wigs. Some wigs are made with human hair that has had the cuticle removed. This reduces tangling, but also results in more delicate hair. Be prepared to care for your wig even more than you do for your natural hair. Human hair wigs require styling, washing, and treating with specialty Human Hair wig products.
Wide selections of styles, colors, pricing, and availability make synthetic wigs a wonderful option for any patient experiencing hair loss from cancer treatments or other medical conditions. Synthetic fiber has come a long way in the last 20 years—it looks and feels more natural than ever before.
Often inexpensive, synthetic wigs are your chance to reinvent yourself on a daily basis as you so choose. From classic styles to hand-crafted monofilament wigs, there is always a vast selection to choose from.
Unlike typical wigs, which rely on a fabric "cap" to hold the hair or fibers of the wig,Monofilament wigs are designed using a thin monofilament weave that is light-weight and almost entirely transparent.
An excellent option for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or women suffering from significant hair loss, monofilament wigs offer the most natural and realistic look. Each hair is hand-sewn into the monofilament mesh, while the semi-transparent material allows for the wig to show off your scalp in the areas where your hair naturally parts. This type of construction also gives you the freedom to part and style your hair in different ways. Monofilament wigs are nearly indiscernible from natural hair to even the most curious onlooker.
Offered in both human hair and synthetic styles, Monofilament wigs tend to be more expensive than typical wigs of either type due to their hand-crafted nature. However, Monofilament wigs may be entirely worthwhile for those with sensitive skin, little to no hair, or the desire for a luxurious and undetectable wig that will "breathe" more like natural hair.
Of course, you may always get a custom wig made by a specialty wig manufacturer. You can even have a wig made for you out of your own hair! However, be prepared to pay a premium for this type of service. Custom wigs can take from eight weeks to six months to manufacture and typically require a deposit of one thousand dollars or more. These wigs usually start around a few thousand dollars in price and can reach into the tens of thousands depending on the length and type of hair requested.
Accessories and Alternatives
You may not want to wear a wig every single day. Daily wig use can consume significant amounts of time and can wear considerably on your wig. So, when you’re ready for a day without the hassle of styling and applying your wig, what do you do?
Thankfully, there is no shortage of options! Turbans, caps, and wraps are popular "downtime" options for women suffering from hair loss due to cancer treatment or other conditions. Also, there are many ‘tricky’ options, such as baseball caps with fake ponytails, bang add-ons, and headband wigs. These quick options can provide you with a hassle-free alternative hair solution that is easy to apply and remove.
As you journey through this part of your life and begin to look into lifestyle options during and after cancer treatment, the most valuable resources you have are your friends and family. From emotional support to advice and confidence, you know that your friends and family are an invaluable part of your journey.
This is no less true when it comes to picking out your perfect wig. You need opinions and advice from people who aren’t afraid to be honest with you. Contact all of your friends who have worn wigs in the past (or who know others that have) and gather as much advice and information as you can. We also encourage you to take your time browsing through potential wig options and'Send a Link to Your Friends' so they can offer their opinions. Feedback from those whom we trust the most is always valuable.
Also, take a moment to read testimonials written by other women who have ordered a product in which you are interested. Check out forums and blogs to see which products people have really enjoyed and which ones are nightmares. The staff at Wilshire Wigs has done their best to offer only the best products we can find, but your personal research will provide you with the best potential wig or hairpiece options for your unique needs.