Amrit Singh, M.B.B.S.
Breast Cancer Care, Hematology (Blood), Oncology (Cancer)
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Scalp cooling therapy prevents hair loss during chemotherapy
Hair loss is one of the common side effects of chemotherapy, which often is prescribed to treat many forms of cancer. Losing hair can greatly contribute to a patient’s stress and anxiety. However, a treatment called scalp cooling therapy is helping many patients keep most of their hair.
Hair loss may seem like a small price to pay for the chemotherapy that works to prevent cancer from coming back. But for many patients, it’s tough on their self-image, and a constant reminder of the disease. Scalp cooling therapy helps protect a patient’s privacy, and can improve self-esteem and attitude toward treatment.
Chemotherapy works by targeting all rapidly dividing cells in the body, including hair follicles, resulting in hair loss about two weeks after beginning treatment. Scalp cooling reduces the damage that chemotherapy causes to hair follicles. When cooled, the blood vessels in the scalp constrict, reducing blood flow to hair follicles, restricting the amount of chemotherapy medication that can get into the hair follicle cells.
Scalp cooling therapy uses an FDA-approved cooling cap with cold liquid circulating through it and is connected to a computer that maintains the temperature of the cap at around 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The cap also has a covering that keeps it in place and the temperature constant.
A patient will wear the cap for 30 minutes before their chemotherapy treatment, throughout the chemo session and for 90 to 120 minutes afterward. A study conducted on women using the cooling caps while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer showed that 66% experienced hair loss of 50% or less. The entire group of women who didn’t use the caps lost more than half of their hair.
Minor side effects may include chills, headaches, scalp irritation, and neck and shoulder discomfort.
Amrit Singh, M.B.B.S., is an oncologist in Fairmont, Mankato and New Prague, Minnesota.