Medicine

Cooling caps help women keep hair during breast cancer chemo

Cooling caps help women keep hair during breast cancer chemo

The way scalp cooling works is by applying what's referred to as a "cold cap" to the patient's head immediately before they begin their treatment.

The companies manufacturing the refrigeration caps, which cost about $40,000 to buy, say they reduce blood flow to hair follicles that include rapidly dividing cells - the sort of cells chemotherapy target and kill.

"While further research is needed, the data suggest that when scalp cooling is successful at decreasing hair loss, it could improve the treatment experience for women undergoing adjuvant chemotherapy for early-stage breast cancer".

Other contributors to this study include Tao Wang, Polly Niravath, Mari Rude, Susan Hilsenbeck, C. Kent Osborne, Mothaffar Rimawi and Kristen Otte, all with Baylor College of Medicine, Cynthia Osborne, Frankie Holmes and Jay Courtright with Texas Oncolocy, US Oncology, Richard Paxman with Paxman Coolers Ltd., Steven Papish with Summit Medical Group-MD Anderson Cancer Center, Jame Abraham with Cleveland Clinic and Mario Lacouture with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

As mentioned before, one reason why these caps are not popular is the fact that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) thinks that they are ineffective and might not be safe for cancer patients. The first team was led by Dr. Hope Rugo of the University of California and the other team was spearheaded by Dr. Julie Nangia of the Baylor College of Medicine. Breast cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the second most common cancer among women in the United States behind skin cancer.

The women wore the cap for 30 minutes before their chemotherapy treatment, during the treatment and for 90 to 120 minutes after it ended. The scalp temperature was maintained at three degrees Celsius during treatment. The study, which tracks patients over five years, used standardized photographs to grade hair loss. But researchers may have found a way to slow it.


A trial proved that two-third of the women who wore the cap lost half or less hair than usual.

Two studies have shown that women who undergo hair loss during breast cancer treatment may not have to face this traumatizing act if they use scalp cooling caps during the course of the chemotherapy sessions. However the researchers concluded that scalp cooling was unlikely to have caused this. Hair loss was assessed by a healthcare worker. The result is that 50 percent of these women retained more than half of their hair.

"We found that scalp cooling during commonly used chemotherapy regimens was well tolerated and was associated with significantly less hair loss, as well as improvement in several quality-of-life indicators", she said.

But cooling caps haven't been extensively studied in the US, and womens' experiences with the caps have been hit or miss. That has led to a big market for cooling caps, which are purported to limit hair loss.

DigniCap, one of the two cooling caps, reported 67 out of 106 women lost less than half their hair after four rounds of chemotherapy. The average cost is $1,500 to $3,000, depending on the number of chemotherapy cycles. Furthermore, the cooling cap isn't covered by health insurance and a patient may need to pay at least $1,500 for the device.