Cold Cap

Woman who is going through chemotherapy
Photo: Photographee eu/Shutterstock
Cold caps may help women keep their hair during chemotherapy.
There has been a surge in interest in a technique used by women undergoing chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer, who report that it is helping many of them keep their hair. The "cold cap" treatment has been used by women in Europe, but initial studies in the U.S. in the 1980s showed little positive benefit, and the idea was largely discarded until now.
For many women with breast cancer, losing their hair as a result of the chemotherapy that often accompanies the surgery can be just as devastating as the other side effects of chemotherapy: nausea, weakness, and fatigue. It seems almost like adding insult to injury to be fighting a life-threatening illness while taking a medication that makes you feel worse, ravages your body, and causes you to lose all your hair.
An analysis of 53 studies from around the world has shown that, since 1995, research suggests that the scalp cooling technique preserves the hair in approximately 70% of patients who have tried it. While this appears to be a positive sign, a number of doctors are highly concerned and do not support using the technique without extensive additional testing.
Among the concerns is the fact that no one is sure exactly how the technique works. One theory is that by cooling the scalp, you cause vascular restriction in the blood vessels to the hair follicles, which keeps the chemotherapy from reaching the follicles and causing hair loss.
There are also concerns over potential effects caused by blocking the chemotherapy drugs from reaching all areas of the body. Some doctors fear that this treatment may lead to an increase in metastases of the scalp in cancer patients. These concerns are espoused by doctors at some of the leading cancer centers in the United States: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, University of Miami School of Medicine, Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, and others.
Despite the concerns of many medical professionals, "cold cap therapy" has created a great deal of interest among many women. As a result, many cancer centers are beginning to take notice of the trend. In many cases, such as at Weill Cornell Breast Center in New York, the subject is always initiated by the patient, but the doctors have seen no reason not to support the idea. In fact, Dr. Anne Moore of Weill Cornell has plans to undertake a study using the cooling caps. Additionally, new studies are being planned at the University of California, San Francisco.
There are a number of medical centers that now support Cold Cap Therapy. These can be found at the following locations:
• Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan
• Minnesota Oncology in Minneapolis, Minnesota
• Minnesota Oncology in St. Paul, Minnesota
• University of California, San Francisco Medical Center in San Francisco, California
• New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City
There are two more centers coming to Minnesota and Washington. There is also a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of scalp cooling and encouraging additional research called The Rapunzel Project.
See also: Chemotherapy and hair loss