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Cancer Awareness & Prevention

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Guide to wigs and head coverings

Cancer patients face various challenges. One of the more difficult side effects of cancer treatment is the probability of hair loss, as both men and women report hair loss as one of the side effects they fear the most after being diagnosed with cancer.

Hair loss may be a side effect of chemotherapy. But the Mayo Clinic notes that not everyone who undergoes chemotherapy will experience hair loss, which may be a side effect of the medication chosen and dosage administered. Chemotherapy drugs are powerful medications that attack rapidly growing cancer cells. However, these drugs not only impact cancerous cells, but they affect healthy cells as well. That means they can affect any cells in the body, including those that form hair follicles.

Cancer-related hair loss can occur just about anywhere hair grows. But while hair loss elsewhere on the body can be concealed relatively easily, it's hair loss on one's head that may affect a person's body image. Wigs and other coverings can help cancer patients maintain a healthy body image, and the following are some tips to help patients find the right product for them.

• Begin shopping early. Hair loss may begin two to four weeks after treatment is initiated. Explore your options once you know your treatment plan. Ask for referrals to reputable wig shops or browse online to see which options are available to you.

• Learn about sizing. Women's wigs generally come in three different sizes: petite, average and large. Many wear an average cap. To achieve the correct measurements, have someone measure the circumference of your head, tracing around the perimeter of your hairline and continuing behind the ears. A flexible seamstress measuring tape is helpful. Also, measure from the tip of the spine to the front of the head.

• Choose your hair type. Wigs come in a variety of materials. These include human hair, synthetic hair and heat-friendly synthetic hair. Human hair will require similar maintenance to a regular head of hair and will not hold styles long. Therefore, if you desire a wig that requires less maintenance, then synthetic is the way to go. These wigs retain their shape and can still be relatively indistinguishable in appearance from human hair. For women who would like versatility in styling, a heat-friendly synthetic wig can be styled much like human hair and will not be damaged by heat-producing appliances.

• Select cap type. Caps come in different materials and sewing types. Some, such as hand-tied caps, have monofilament strands sewn to a very soft piece of lace fabric. They can be quite comfortable and offer the most natural look possible. Ask your wig professional to recommend a budget-friendly, comfortable wig.

• Consider scarves, hats and head wraps. Wigs are not for everyone. Head wraps and scarves can help women look fashionable if wigs are not their first choice. Comfort should always be an important factor when selecting scarves. Look for materials that are soft to the touch. Silk, terry cloth and cotton are comfortable, breathable fabrics. Diversity in both pattern and texture is an advantage of scarves and wraps. These pieces can complement wardrobe choices, make bold statements or blend in when desired. Head wraps fit almost any head size and can be put on quickly and easily, which is a boon when energy levels are waning. Explore the many manufacturers who specialize in chemotherapy or alopecia caps, scarves, wraps, and hats.

Hair loss is a common side effect of certain cancer treatments. However, both men and women can continue to look their best through the use of fashionable wigs and head coverings.