Hair loss is one of the more common, and unpleasant, effects of chemotherapy. But scalp cooling devices, or cooling caps, just may be what chemo patients need to avoid losing their hair while undergoing the treatment.
Chemotherapy is a form of treatment that works by killing quickly dividing cells, the Los Angeles Times wrote. But since that feature of cancer cells is also present in hair cells, that’s the reason why patients undergoing chemotherapy also end up losing their hair.
That isn’t as much of an issue to male patients as it is to females. According to the Daily Mail, over 75 percent of women suffering from cancer fear hair loss most of all when it comes to chemotherapy side effects. The publication also cited a study where one out of ten women admitted that they would rather opt for another form of treatment, or choose to have their treatment reduced if it means avoiding chemo hair loss.
This common fear of hair loss in female cancer patients was shared in a statement from lead researcher Julie Rani Nangia, an assistant professor of medicine at Houston’s Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center. She appeared Friday at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium to reveal the results of trials done with scalp cooling devices, and discussed why avoiding hair loss, or alopecia, is especially important to women who go through chemo.
“Chemotherapy fights cancer by attacking rapidly dividing tumor cells. However, hair cells also divide rapidly so the drugs target them as well, which is what causes alopecia. Hair is important, especially to women. Hair loss can really affect how a patient feels.
“If you have a heart attack, you won’t look different, but if you have cancer and lose your hair, everyone knows what you are going through. Some people embrace it, but for others, having something so private made public is embarrassing.”
The L.A. Times wrote about how scalp cooling devices are supposed to work for the people who wear them. And it’s as simple in theory as redirecting the chemotherapy agent in such a way that less of it gets to a patient’s hair follicles. With the scalp cooled to about 66 degrees Fahrenheit, blood vessels are constricted, with blood flow reduced by about 20 to 40 percent. As chemo drugs travel through a person’s bloodstream, that means less drugs reaching the follicles.
The researchers worked with 95 women suffering from breast cancer and assigned to wear a scalp cooling device as part of the test, as well as a control group of 47 women with the illness who didn’t get to test the cap. Out of the women in the cooling cap group, 51 percent had a “good amount” of hair after four chemo cycles. This was a sharp contrast to the women in the control group, as the L.A. Times noted that none of them had hair after a similar series of four cycles.
Although the researchers believe that the cooling caps can work on any cancer patient with a solid tumor, Nangia said that her team went with breast cancer patients because of the bigger impact chemo hair loss could have on women. It bears mentioning, though, that the caps cannot be used by anyone suffering from leukemia or other blood cancers, as it works by limiting blood flow.
The scalp cooling device used in the trial is called the Orbis Paxman Hair Loss Prevention System. While the cap is currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it will be pushed as an alternative to the FDA-approved DigniCap Scalp Cooling System, should it get the green light from the government.
[Featured Image by Chris Hondros/Getty Images]