Radiation Therapy & Hair

Hair loss
Q: I was radiated in 1987 on my head and neck. My hair fell out in the radiated area, grew back and fell out again. Have you heard of that happening before?
Also, I would LOVE to get my salon colored hair professionally relaxed (straightened) but I'm afraid it might fall out in the radiated area. I know you can't predict the future but I am curious as to what your opinion is. If it were your hair would you?

A: Having seen the effects of cancer treatments on both my sister and my aunt, and my best friend's mother, there is little that would surprise me as far as reactions to cancer treatments.
My sister's hair became very thin and brittle but she didn't lose any significant amounts in her first course of radiation. Later treatments caused total hair loss.
My aunt lost her hair immediately after her first treatment with radiation and pretty much never grew it back the same. My best friend's mother didn't lose a single strand of her hair after her radiation treatment. Her hair simply turned snow white over the course of a week or so.
As I understand it, the hair can respond in a variety of ways to radiation therapy depending on the individual. In some cases, the radiation damages the hair follicle sufficiently to kill the ability to grow the hair, but usually the therapy simply triggers the hair to enter the shedding phase as a group, resulting in mass hair loss.
At this point, however, almost twenty years after your initial treatment, I would think that your hair is ready to be treated again. Particularly since you've stated that your hair has been professionally colored.
My advice is this: Talk to your stylist about your concerns and discuss your options. It may be possible to apply protective creams and coatings to the scalp to prevent the chemicals from contacting the skin and therefore affecting the follicles.
Furthermore, make sure to perform a patch test/strand test on the hair before committing to a full-scalp service. This could eliminate your concerns altogether, and can give your stylist much-needed information on precisely how your hair will respond to the chemical service.
Photo: Sasimoto/Shutterstock
See also:
The 3 hair growth phases
Chemotherapy and hair loss
Can you have a permanent when you are having radiation and chemotherapy?
Is a home perm safe, 2 years after radiation?