Many cancer patients face hair loss as a side effect of certain cancer treatments. In the midst of a patient’s fight for survival, a patient’s mental state can be as important as their physical well-being. Unfortunately, hair loss can contribute to a patient’s feelings of depression, anxiety, and loss of control. Hair prostheses, such as wigs, can help a patient get through their treatment and recovery with dignity and comfort.

What Causes Hair Loss?

Radiation therapy concentrated on the head and certain chemotherapy drugs can cause hair loss, according to the Mayo Clinic. The strength of the chemotherapy dosage and the amount of time spent undergoing chemotherapy treatment also impacts hair loss.

Hair loss occurs between two to four weeks after treatment begins. Most of the time, hair loss that occurs due to cancer treatments is only temporary and should grow back within a few months after treatment stops. Some patients experience only a thinning of their hair while others lose their hair entirely. The rate of hair loss is also unpredictable.

The American Cancer Society suggests that cancer patients who will experience hair loss during chemo or radiation therapy may be more comfortable shaving their head before full hair loss occurs. This is to help avoid unpleasant experiences with hair loss in clumps or while sleeping at night, which can cause itchiness and discomfort.

Though hair may grow back between treatments, it is likely to fall out again while treatment continues. Some patients choose to wear a wig even after treatment is finished until they feel comfortable with their new hair growth. Ultimately, your personal preferences matter most when it comes to choosing when and how long you wear a wig.

Preparing to Wear a Wig

If you know your cancer treatment is likely to cause hair loss and that you will want to wear a wig throughout the process, it’s important to prepare early. This will help you transition into wearing a wig with comfort and ease when you need it most.

Here are steps you can take to help you choose a wig that fits and looks natural:

  • Photograph the way you wear your hair naturally so you can choose a wig with a similar shape and style.
  • Take a clipping from your natural hair to help you match it with a wig color, then compare the swatch to the wig in outdoor or natural lighting.
  • Take measurements of the circumference of your head when your hair is wet or, if dry, lying flat and without any extra product like volumizing spray or mousse.
  • Choose a wig with an adjustable band to accommodate any changes in head circumference without hair.

Because some cancer treatments can leave your skin feeling sensitive, you may want to consider additional accessories like a wig grip band or liner. These can help keep your skin cooler and help you wear a wig comfortably.

Medicare Coverage for Wigs

Original Medicare Part A and Part B do not cover the costs of purchasing a wig, even when a doctor is able to prescribe it. Though wigs can be considered a prosthetic, they are not often deemed medically necessary items that treat a specific condition.

Medicare coverage through a Medicare Advantage plan, also known as Part C, may provide more options for some recipients. Medicare Advantage plans include the same Part A and Part B coverage as Original Medicare, but many offer additional benefits which can vary greatly by plan and location. If coverage for hair prostheses is not specifically outlined in a Medicare Advantage plan’s list of benefits, it’s unlikely to be covered. Check with your Medicare Advantage plan to confirm their range of benefits and your expected share of cost of a wig.

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