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Cooling Cap Prevents Hair Loss in Women Undergoing Cancer Treatment

chemotherap and cancer treatment

Hair loss can be a traumatic part of your chemotherapy regimen. Researchers have found a method which may help prevent alopecia.


Not all chemotherapy regimens cause hair loss, but it is common with Adriamycin (doxorubicin), one of the drugs used to fight breast cancer.

Chemotherapy works by attacking rapidly dividing cells. Hair follicles, though normal and natural to our bodies, are rapidly dividing so they are targeted by certain drugs inadvertently. For many women, they begin to notice hair loss about two weeks after their first chemotherapy treatment.

The loss of hair is temporary – it generally begins to grow back after chemotherapy is completed - but it can have a huge impact on a woman during treatment. Two new studies this past winter have focused on helping women prevent hair loss, clinically known as alopecia.

Scalp cooling conducted 30 minutes prior to and 90 minutes post infusion appeared to preserve hair in research conducted by Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. The theory is that reducing blood flow to the hair follicles will help reduce uptake of the chemotherapeutic agent.

Scalp cooling is achieved with the use of a cap – usually a silicon cap in which refrigerated fluid is circulated. An outer neoprene camp insulates the scalp. The system is held in place with a chin strap.

The women in the study who received scalp cooling had 50% less hair loss. A second study conducted at the University of California San Francisco found similar results.

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Adverse side effects were, in general, mild but did include mild headache. A small number of women dropped out of the study because they disliked the feeling of cold.

Scalp cooling has actually been available in Europe for some time. Here in the States, one of the devices was approved in 2015 and is known as the DigniCap. The other system - the Orbis Paxman Hair Loss Prevention System - is currently awaiting approval.

More studies are planned. For widespread use among chemotherapy patients, there is also a concern about reimbursement as insurance plans may see the procedure as “cosmetic.”

"At face value, these findings appear to represent a major step forward in improving the quality of life of individuals with cancer," comments Dawn L. Hershman, MD, MS, from the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University Medical Center, in an accompanying editorial.

Journal References:
Hope S. Rugo, et al. Association Between Use of a Scalp Cooling Device and Alopecia After Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer. JAMA, 2017; 317 (6): 606 DOI: 10.1001/jama.2016.21038

Julie Nangia, et al. Effect of a Scalp Cooling Device on Alopecia in Women Undergoing Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer. JAMA, 2017; 317 (6): 596 DOI: 10.1001/jama.2016.20939

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Photo Credit:
By Jenny Mealing - Cold mits and wine coolers!, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons