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Chemotherapy Drugs Can Cause Hair Loss

Some drugs are more likely than others to cause hair loss

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Updated August 17, 2009

Chemo Decision

Chemo Decision

Photo © Lisa F. Young, Fotolia

Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment that your doctor may prescribe to fight your breast cancer. Chemo may be given as an infusion or in pill form. These drugs travel through your body in your bloodstream, just as cancer cells may do. Chemotherapy works by targeting rapidly diving cells and disrupting their life cycle. You may experience hair loss as one side effect of chemotherapy; as hair follicles divide rapidly, they are susceptible to the effects of chemo. However, not everyone who takes chemotherapy will have hair loss.

In the table below, you will see a list of chemotherapy drugs that are used to treat breast cancer. Several of these drugs are used in combination with each other, while others are used alone. These drugs are arranged by how likely it is that they will cause hair loss. If a chemo drugs does not cause hair loss, that does not mean that it won't kill cancer cells. (Hormonal therapy and targeted biological therapies are not included in this table, because those drugs rarely affect hair follicles.)

Your treatment schedule, as well as your dosage of chemotherapy, also affects your risk of hair loss. If you are taking weekly chemo in small doses, there's a good chance that your hair may only thin out. And if you are having high doses every three or four weeks, you should prepare for hair loss, by buying a wig or other head coverings (hat, cap, scarf).

Remember that side effects of chemotherapy, such as hair loss, are temporary and will subside after treatment ends. As you recover, you may develop chemo curls, and gradually, your natural hair will return.

Sources:

Detailed Guide: Breast Cancer. Chemotherapy. American Cancer Society. Last Revised: 05/13/2009.

Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Drugs and Risk of Hair Loss

Most Likely Sometimes Rarely
Abraxane (paclitaxel protein-bound) Doxil (pegylated liposomal doxorubicin) Methotrexate (Amethopterin, Mexate, Folex)
Adriamycin (doxorubicin) 5-FU (5-fluorouracil, Fluorouracil, Adrucil) Paraplatin (carboplatin)
Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide) Gemzar (gemcitabine) Platinol (cisplatin)
Ellence (epirubicin) Xeloda (capecitabine)
Ixempra (ixabepilone)
Navelbine (vinorelbine)
Taxol (paclitaxel)
Taxotere (docetaxel)

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