Hair loss is one of the top concerns for women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. But a new, special device — a cooling cap — may help some women keep their hair, early results of a new study say.
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Hair loss related to cancer treatment is usually temporary. Most of the time, hair will grow back.
But for many people, hair loss due to cancer treatment is a distressing event that is much more than a change in physical appearance. Hair loss, also called alopecia, can be an emotionally challenging event that deeply affects your self-image and your daily life. A wig or a scarf marks you as a cancer patient and is a constant reminder of the disease.
Chemotherapy can cause hair loss by harming the cells that help hair grow. Hair follicles in the growth phase are sensitive to chemotherapy, resulting in hair loss about two weeks after treatment begins.
The cooling cap was created based on a theory that intense cold would constrict the blood vessels in the scalp, keeping the cell-killing chemo away from the hair follicles, where hair is produced.
The cooling cap is a helmet-like device with circulating cooling fluid that cools the scalp to 36 degrees and is worn for 30 minutes to 60 minutes before, during and after chemotherapy treatment.
About 180 women undergoing chemotherapy for early stage breast cancer at seven sites across the United States participated in the cooling cap study. Researchers split the women into two groups — one group used the cooling cap and the other group did not.
Results show that 50 percent of women who used the cooling cap kept their hair, while women who didn’t use the cap lost their hair. In addition, the study shows that women who kept their hair fared better emotionally as measured through a quality of life assessment.
The effectiveness of scalp cooling varied by chemotherapy type and dose; some evidence also suggests that the degree and duration of cooling also are factors.
The cap was so successful that the trial was halted early.
Oncologist Jame Abraham, MD, who was a lead researcher in the study, says the findings are significant.
“Hair loss is a very important concern for women undergoing chemotherapy, and scalp cooling offers a very viable option for them to help preserve their hair,” Dr. Abraham says. “Women with breast cancer consider alopecia as one of the most severe and distressing side effects of chemotherapy. It can have a huge psychological impact on patients.”
Dr. Abraham says women in the trial will be followed for five years so researchers can study the long-term impact of the cooling cap.
In April 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave marketing clearance for the cooling cap for reducing hair loss in breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. The device becomes the second hair loss prevention system with FDA approval. However, this particular device, called the Paxman scalp cooler, is the only one tested in a randomized clinical trial.
Results of the study were presented at the 2016 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.