Strictly's Amy Dowden shaves her hair amid chemotherapy - can it ever be prevented?

Amy Dowden has been experiencing hair loss during chemotherapy
Amy Dowden has opened up about experiencing hair loss during chemotherapy. (Getty Images)

Strictly Come Dancing star Amy Dowden has shared an emotional video in which she revealed she has shaved off her hair as she continues chemotherapy to treat her breast cancer.

The professional dancer, who was diagnosed with the disease in May, took the "hardest step" to shave her head as she is experiencing hair loss due to the treatment.

In a video posted to her Instagram page, Dowden, 33, said she was "taking control" of her cancer journey, adding: "I know it's only hair but these past few months I've had what feels like so much taken away from me that has made me not feel like Amy.

"I'm missing every possible aspect of dancing. I just wanted to keep my identity with my hair and I tried telling myself it wouldn't go. But I would dread the pain of waking up to the shedding every day."

Dowden underwent a mastectomy in June, but was told she needed to have chemotherapy after doctors found that the cancer had spread. She said she is now halfway through her chemotherapy course.

Previously, she opened up about experiencing hair loss saying: "What I’ve found harder this time round and the last few days is the hair shredding. Even though I’m cold capping you hope to keep 50% of your hair and there are also many benefits to the hair growing back quicker too.

"But as much as I prepared myself, waking up everyday gently combing my hair with a wide comb and seeing what comes out, it is just heart-breaking personally for me."

Read more: Amy Dowden details hair loss during second round of chemotherapy: ‘It’s heart-breaking’ (Evening Standard, 3-min read)

Why does chemotherapy cause hair loss?

Not all chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss, but those that do can cause thinning or complete loss and it will usually start to appear about two to three weeks after the first treatment.

"Chemotherapy works by targeting rapidly dividing cells in the body. While this effectively targets cancer cells, it also impacts other cells that divide quickly, including hair follicles," dermatologist Dr Laura Geigaite says.

"The disruption in the growth cycle of these follicles can lead to hair thinning and eventually hair loss, commonly termed as chemotherapy-induced alopecia."

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Can you prevent hair loss during chemotherapy?

Dr Geigaite says that, while it can be 'challenging' to entirely prevent hair loss during chemotherapy, there are some methods you can follow to reduce the severity.

"One such method I often suggest to my patients is scalp cooling or cold caps," she explains. "These devices lower the temperature of the scalp, reducing blood flow to the area and, in turn, limiting the amount of chemotherapy drugs reaching the hair follicles. It's essential, however, to discuss this with your oncologist to ensure it's suitable for your specific treatment."

Dowden has posted several images of her wearing a cold cap during chemotherapy in a bid to prevent hair loss.

How long will it take for the hair to grow back?

Once you have finished your chemotherapy treatment, Dr Geigaite says that most patients can expect to see hair regrowth within three to six months.

"Initially, the hair might grow at a slower rate, but with time, the pace picks up, and the density gradually improves," she says. "Many patients report changes in hair texture and colour post-chemotherapy. Where once you had straight hair, you might find it growing back curly, or vice versa. Similarly, the colour might be different or more grey. Over time, and with the right care, your hair might revert to its original texture and shade, but some individuals experience these changes long-term."

Watch: Linda Evangelista was diagnosed with breast cancer twice in five years

Hair loss and mental health

A recent study found that hair loss can have a ‘negative impact’ on the psyche of an individual as we often associate our hair as a part of our image and identity.

"Hair is intrinsically tied to identity, self-worth, and societal perceptions of beauty. Experiencing hair loss, especially as a side effect of a health battle, can be deeply distressing. Many individuals experience feelings of grief, anxiety, and lowered self-esteem," Dr Geigaite explains.

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A woman holds a wooden comb in her hands, cleans it of fallen hair after combing. The concept of head health problems, deficient conditions in the body due to stress and depression, a consequence of chemotherapy and radiation for cancer.
Hair loss is commnon during chemotherapy for cancer. (Getty Images)

"It's crucial to seek emotional and psychological support during this period. Whether through therapy, support groups, or open discussions with loved ones, addressing the mental and emotional toll is as essential as addressing the physical one."

Dr Geigaite adds that it’s crucial to remember that hair loss is temporary and, for anyone who is worried about hair loss, she recommends investing in a wig to help with your emotional wellbeing.

"Wigs can offer a sense of normalcy, privacy, and confidence during a time when one's self-esteem might take a hit," she says. "I often tell my patients that wearing a wig is more than just covering the head; it's about reclaiming a piece of oneself during a challenging journey."