How to

24 February 2017

Using Scalp Cooling to Counter Hair Loss for Cancer Patients

According to two new studies into the effects of ice caps (also known as cooling caps) on breast cancer patients, the little-known innovation could be the key to sparing patients the additional trauma of hair loss, which Jane Murphy, clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, states can be “the most traumatic moment of diagnosis and treatment” for many forced to go through the ordeal that is chemotherapy.

Img: Paxman Scalp Cooling 
With 55,000 women in the UK being diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and 18,000 of those having chemotherapy at some point during their treatment, finding ways to lessen their struggle is an important battle.

The two studies, funded by ice cap manufacturers Paxman Scalp Cooling and Dignitana and published in the JAMA Medical Journal, looked at the benefits in terms of hair loss reduction in chemotherapy patients wearing the ice cap not only during the treatment itself, but for  half an hour before and  up to two hours after each session.

The first study, conducted by doctors at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, assessed the effects of cooling caps on 182 breast cancer patients during chemotherapy treatment, with two thirds of patients using the caps while the remaining third did not. They found that of the patients using ice caps, 51% kept at least half of their hair.

The second study, conducted at the University of California, used a slightly smaller sample size of 122 patients. They also found the ice caps to have a positive effect, with two thirds of those who made use of the technology managing to retain their hair.

All patients who did not receive scalp cooling lost all of their hair.

In much the same way that scientists are now theorising about the prospect of using extreme cold to allow better treatment of terminal cancer patients, due to the way in which low temperatures slow biological processes, the scalp cooling system works by reducing blood flow to the hair follicles, thereby reducing the intake of toxic chemicals associated with chemotherapy.

The results of the studies seem to have been well received among industry professionals, with Dany Bell, treatment and recovery programme lead at Macmillan Cancer Support, stating, “Losing your hair can be one of the most distressing side effects of chemotherapy and the impact on a person’s wellbeing and sense of self can be profound.

“There’s more to treating someone with cancer than simply targeting the illness – it’s essential that treatment takes a holistic approach to ensure all aspects of a person’s wellbeing are managed. This study is promising as it suggests there’s a possible solution to hair loss. If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, we would advise speaking to your medical team about the options available.”

However, Jane Murphy is keen to stress that, as with most available treatments, this is far from ‘one-size-fits-all’:

“It’s important to remember that a cold cap is not right for everyone. It doesn’t eliminate hair loss for everybody and can add hours on to an already draining chemotherapy appointment.”

Patients interested in the use of a cooling cap are advised to discuss the matter with their doctor.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.