“Will I lose my hair?” is often the first question patients ask regarding the side effects of chemotherapy treatment. Chemotherapy-induced hair loss is one of the most-recognized (if not the most-recognized) physical sign of someone who’s battling cancer. And while each patient’s hair loss timeline and duration of symptoms is slightly different, a high-level overview can be helpful. Knowing what to expect can speed a patient’s unique healing process as cells begin to function normally again.
Hair Loss Timeline: Expected Timing and Duration of Symptoms for Most Cancer Patients
Hair loss and regrowth will vary according to the type of cancer treatment given. (For example: Patients treated with brain radiation versus tamoxifen may experience radically different hair loss timing.) Below is a standard hair loss timeline for most cancer patients:
- At Approximately 10 to 14 Days, Hair Loss Begins. Most patients start losing hair sometime between 10 days and two weeks into treatment. It may occur even sooner, depending on the chemo drug prescribed. Loss can start gradually with finding clumps or individual strands in a hairbrush, on a pillow, or in the shower drain. Some patients will experience more dramatic hair loss, with most of it falling out nearly all at once.
- Peak Hair Loss Occurs at Two Months. Hair loss typically peaks around the two-month mark after chemotherapy starts. While it’s normal to keep losing hair throughout treatment and for up to a month after completion, two months is when hair loss peaks with most chemo drugs currently on the market.
- Two to Three Weeks After Chemotherapy Ends, Regrowth Begins. After finishing a chemo drug regimen, most patients’s scalps will grow a layer of soft fuzz. However, other patients continue losing hair at this point.
- One Month Later, Real Hair Regrowth Begins. Hair regrowth at a patient’s normal rate starts around 30 days after chemotherapy treatment ends.
- An Inch of Hair Should Grow After Two Months. Around two months after finishing treatment, most patients will see an inch or more of hair growth.
Chemotherapy-induced Hair Loss and Regrowth Patterns
How long hair takes to grow back back varies from person to person. Also, hair regrowth patterns on different parts of the body may vary. Some patients see hair regrowth more prominently on other body parts besides the scalp. For example, eyebrows, eyelashes, and body hair on the arms, legs and other common locations may take longer. Most often, scalp hair regrowth begins before other areas regain their natural growth patterns.
While different chemo drugs trigger a variety of symptoms, side effects and other bodily responses, most patients undergo at least temporary hair loss. But for patients taking Taxotere, hair loss and regrowth timelines may differ significantly from patients treated with other drugs. If you’re prescribed a Taxotere chemotherapy drug regimen (or took it in the past 10 years), your hair loss timeline may be quite different.
Taxotere Chemotherapy Hair Loss Timeline
Taxotere (docetaxel) is a cytotoxic drug that’s often used in chemotherapy treatments that deliver a “cocktail” of combined drugs intravenously to battle cancer. The timeline for Taxotere patients looks very similar to the timeline above: Hair loss begins roughly two weeks after the drug’s administered, and it begins to grow back two to three weeks after chemotherapy ends. But for some patients (studies have shown anywhere from 6.3% to as high as 10-15% of patients at least 55 weeks after treatment with Taxotere), no hair regrowth occurs. Persistent significant alopecia, also known as permanent hair loss, is a lasting side effect that’s unique to Taxotere. In other words, it cannot be reversed.
Shirley Ledlie received Taxotere chemotherapy treatment for her breast cancer back in 2005. After a year without any hair regrowth, Ledlie discovered something had “gone drastically wrong with my hair follicles during treatment.” She realized, “what was supposed to be a temporary side-effect was going to be a permanent disfiguring feature in my life. I left the clinic that day in total denial and devoid of any femininity.”
Sadly, Ledlie’s story is not unique. Thousands of women (and men) experienced permanent alopecia following Taxotere treatment. Yet, most also state their oncologists didn’t warn them about this potential risk. Many would have chosen an alternative treatment if they’d known a comparable one existed. The drug’s manufacturer, Sanofi-Aventis, downplayed this emotionally taxing side effect and failed to properly notify both consumers and prescribing physicians. In other words, a typical hair loss timeline doesn’t really apply for Taxotere patients, since significant hair regrowth may never occur.
Emotional Side Effects of Temporary Hair Loss
Patients can take steps to alleviate emotional side effects from chemotherapy-induced hair loss. Cutting long hair prior to starting chemo can make hair loss seem less dramatic. A wig, scarf or other head covering can also ease the difficult transition and protect the patient’s scalp. It’s important to remember that new hair regrowth will likely look quite different after chemotherapy ends. That’s because hair color and texture can change dramatically following cancer treatment with chemo drugs. For many patients, believing in eventual hair regrowth after treatment is an important part of the healing cycle. It signals the end of a traumatic time and instills hope at the opportunity to start life over again. A long-term adverse reaction like permanent alopecia, however, can have significant emotional side effects.
Permanent Hair Loss: Taxotere’s Unique Potential Side Effect
A 2006 study conducted by the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center in Denver, CO found nearly 6.3% of patients prescribed Taxotere during chemotherapy experienced permanent hair loss. Study author Dr. Scot Sedlacek discovered permanent hair loss is unique to Taxotere, especially when combined with Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide. According to Dr. Sedlacek, “The one side effect possibly most dreaded by the patient is alopecia. Yet, we have always told our female patients don’t worry, [hair] will always come back. This last statement may not be true.”
Indeed, permanent hair loss can be “emotionally devastating” for cancer patients who are left with such a highly visible disfigurement. French oncologist Hugues Bourgeois recommends choosing Paclitaxel (Taxol) over Taxotere, since it has a “negligible percentage of Persistent Significant Alopecia.” However, many patients don’t know an alternative chemotherapy option exists or are aware of Taxotere’s permanent hair loss risk. This lack of crucial information means many patients do not question their doctor’s prescription recommendation.
What You Can Do
If you experienced permanent alopecia after completing Taxotere treatment, you may qualify for compensation. Sanofi allegedly downplayed Taxotere’s potential permanent hair loss side effect before the FDA intervened in December 2015. Then, the drug manufacturer added a black box warning label to warn consumers about this permanent alopecia risk. For this reason, Sanofi now faces claims for emotional and lasting trauma by many affected plaintiffs. Get a free claim review today to see if you may have a case.
Related: Hair Regrowth After Chemo: What to Expect, and When
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.