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Hair loss (alopecia) as a result of chemotherapy happens to two-thirds of cancer patients. Cooling caps that are machine-based have recently been FDA approved for all cancers patients, in addition to those suffering with breast cancer for which the cooling cap has already been approved. Manual cooling caps have been around for years.
Cooling caps work by cooling the scalp before, during, and after chemotherapy sessions. The cooling cap provides constant cool air circulation with near-freezing temperatures. This causes the blood vessels in the scalp to constrict and tighten up which thereby reduces the number of toxic chemotherapy drugs reaching the hair follicle cells. The cold temperature reduced hair follicle cell activity, which causes the chemotherapy to target fast-dividing cancer cells. This reduces hair loss from the scalp.
There are some side effects to consider when deciding to use a cooling cap. Some adverse effects are chills, cold-induced headaches, shoulder pain and discomfort, neck pain and discomfort, and pain that is associated with wearing a cooling cap for extended amounts of time. Success rates and results vary depending on the type of drug used in the chemotherapy, the dosage, and the individual’s amount of hair on the head. Thicker scalp hair allows for more insulation, thereby not allowing the scalp to reach a cooler temperature.
Sometimes, paradoxically, there are areas with more hair loss as a result of the cooling cap not being tightly fitted and therefore has less contact with the scalp. There are cancer doctors, also known as oncologists, who have expressed their concern with the cooling cap that the chemotherapy will not reach any stray cancer cells that may be lingering somewhere in the scalp, although there have been only a few reports of scalp cancer.
The FDA approved the cooling system in July of 2017. There was a study that showed roughly 50% of female cancer patients feel that the worst aspect of chemotherapy is the hair loss aspect. Even 8% of female patients would avoid chemotherapy treatment due to the fear of hair loss. This new advance lessens the hair loss and reduces making the terrible side effect of chemotherapy that much more tolerable and possibly increasing patient compliance with the medication.