Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy face the distressing prospect of losing their hair. But cold cap therapy can reduce hair loss from chemo and help patients feel more like themselves throughout their cancer treatment.
During chemotherapy, the patient wears a special cap that fits tightly to the scalp, explains Kim Hart, NP, a nurse practitioner at Illinois Cancer Specialists in Arlington Heights. The cap is attached to a device that cools the scalp to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The patient puts on the cap 30 minutes before the treatment and continues to wear it up to three hours after the chemotherapy.
Two scalp cooling systems have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for patients with breast, prostate, ovarian and other solid tumor cancers.
The cold temperature reduces blood flow to the hair follicles, making them less susceptible to chemo damage. A 2017 study published in JAMA showed that 66 percent of patients using the cooling caps had hair loss of 50 percent or less.
While the caps can be uncomfortable to wear, they have their benefits, Hart says, as hair loss is a reminder of illness.
“Patients who are motivated to do this treatment tolerate the discomfort with the hope that they will not lose their hair,” Hart says. “People just want to look the same. They don’t want constant reminders that they are on chemotherapy or that they are battling cancer.”
Ultimately, keeping cool can help preserve not just patients’ hair but also their psychological well-being.