As you already know, hair loss (alopecia) is a common side effect of chemotherapy. Even though not all cancer patients undergo chemotherapy and not all who do lose their hair, bald heads are synonymous with cancer survivors in popular culture. Hair loss can be emotionally traumatic for cancer survivors and serves as a constant, physical reminder of treatment. For most cancer patients, hair does grow back after treatment ends, but it can take time and hair may not be the same color or texture when it returns.
In December of 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted marketing approval to the Dignitana DigniCap Cooling System, more commonly known as a “cooling cap” to help prevent hair loss for breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. So, what is a “cooling cap” and how does it prevent hair loss?
A cold liquid circulates through the cap which fits snugly to the head. A second cap made out of neoprene covers the cold cap to act as insulation. The cold does two things- limits blood flow to the scalp which limits the amount of chemotherapy drugs that reach the scalp and decreases the cell division in the hair follicles which also makes them less susceptible to the effects of chemotherapy. In the clinical trial involving early stage breast cancer patients, more than 2/3 of the participants reported maintaining more than half their hair through treatment. However, some participants did report side effects such as chills and shoulder pain.
Should you give it a try? Ultimately that’s up to you and your doctor. More studies need to be done to further prove the effectiveness of the caps. Some researchers have expressed concerns that the cooling cap may allow cancer cells to live in the scalp, but the incidences of cancer in the scalp are rare. Only some hospitals and cancer treatment center offer the cooling caps at this time.
Even if a cooling cap is not an option for you, there are many things you can do to manage hair loss. Many people wear hats and caps to stay warm and to protect their heads. Others choose to wear wigs. If you think you may want to wear a wig, pick it out before you begin treatment so you can easily match it to your current hair color. Some patients choose to shave their heads before treatment begins. It’s gives them a sense of control and spares them the pain of witnessing the hair falling out. It all depends on your personal preference.