Cooling cap helps more cancer patients save their hair

Published: Feb. 12, 2019 at 3:42 PM EST
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For patients undergoing cancer treatments, certain chemotherapy drugs can cause a big change in appearance.

But a therapy originally approved for breast cancer patients can now help people fighting other forms of the disease.

Scalp cooling has been used in one form or another for the past few years to help some cancer patients preserve hair, but those devices were limited to certain patients with breast cancer only.

Doctors now say cooling is effective for people battling a wider variety of cancers.

Inside a small suitcase are all the tools Terri Buckler needed to save her hair while she was undergoing the treatments designed to save her life.

“A regular 3D mammogram caught this cancer," Terri said. "I could not feel anything. My doctor could not feel anything.”

Terri needed chemo followed by radiation with a drug that would cause hair loss. It’s one side effect her doctor had a solution for.

“They’re dealing with so many other things. If you can take that off their plate, that’s the good thing,” oncologist Dr. David Riseberg said.

A silicone cooling cap with gel covered Terri’s scalp, another cover kept it snug.

Nurses connected the cap to the Paxman cooling system. It lowers the temperature of the scalp, causing the blood vessels to constrict.

“That prevents the chemotherapy from getting to the hair follicles and can reduce the amount of hair loss,” Riseberg said.

This procedure was approved for just breast cancer patients until earlier this year. In addition to breast cancer, the Food and Drug Administration has now expanded its use for patients with ovarian, colorectal and prostate cancers.

From Terri’s first to her last chemo treatment, most people couldn’t see the difference.

“I never used a scarf, I never covered my head," she said. I was always able to style my hair to where if there was a small bald spot I could hide it.”

Which allowed her to preserve some peace of mind during a tough treatment.

Cooling systems are still not FDA-approved for pediatric patients, patients with leukemia or blood cancer, head and neck cancer, and some skin cancers. It is also not covered by insurance.

Terri said the cap cost $500, and each treatment was $200 out of pocket. She needed four chemo treatments.



REPORT: MB #4540

BACKGROUND: Some cancer treatments make people lose some or all of their hair, most often in clumps during shampooing or brushing. It’s normal for both men and women to feel upset about losing their hair. Hair is lost when chemotherapy drugs damage hair follicles, making hair fall out. Some drugs can cause hair thinning or hair loss only on the scalp. Others can also cause the thinning or loss of pubic hair, arm and leg hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes. Radiation therapy to the head often causes scalp hair loss. Sometimes, depending on the dose of radiation to the head, the hair does not grow back the same as it was before. If hair loss is going to happen, it most often starts within 2 weeks of treatment and gets worse 1 to 2 months after starting therapy. Your scalp may feel very sensitive to washing, combing, or brushing. But hair often starts to grow back even before treatment ends.


COOLING CAP: Scalp hypothermia is cooling the scalp with ice packs or cooling caps (cold caps) for a period of time before, during, and after each chemotherapy treatment to try to prevent or reduce hair loss. Newer versions of these devices use a two-piece cooling cap system that is controlled by a computer, which helps circulate a cooled liquid through a cap a person wears during each chemotherapy treatment. A second cap, made from neoprene (a type of artificial rubber), covers the cooling cap to hold it in place and keep the cold from escaping. Controlled studies of older forms of scalp hypothermia (such as using ice packs) have had conflicting results. However, some studies of newer, computer-controlled cooling cap systems have shown benefits.


FDA APPROVED: The FDA has approved the Paxman Scalp Cooling System for patients with solid tumors, such as ovarian, breast, colorectal and prostate cancers. Over the past year, more than 200 Paxman Scalp Cooling Systems have been installed in the United States, with 65 more awaiting delivery and installation, according to the press release. By preventing or decreasing hair loss, the system helps improve quality of life for many of the patients who are burdened by chemotherapy-related hair loss. This is the second scalp cooling system approved by the FDA. The DigniCap System was approved in December 2015.