Health Team

Cooling cap could stop women's hair loss during chemotherapy

Posted December 9, 2016 11:42 a.m. EST
Updated December 9, 2016 7:08 p.m. EST

Hair loss is a major concern for women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer—it's a constant reminder of the cancer and contributes to anxiety and depression.

A new device could ease that concern by helping some women in the early stages of treatments keep their hair.

The study, conducted at seven sites across the country and including 182 women undergoing chemotherapy for early stage breast cancer, looked at the effects of a cooling cap. The helmet-like cap cools the scalp to 36 degrees and is worn before, during and after chemotherapy treatment.

"In patients who used this cap, there is about a 50 percent reduction in hair loss," said Dr. Jame Abraham of the Cleveland Clinic.

Abraham co-authored the study and says all the women who didn't use the cap lost their hair. The results also showed that women who kept their hair fared better emotionally.

The cap was more effective with certain chemotherapy regimens, though.

Researchers believe the intense cold constricts blood vessels in the scalp, which is thought to be the key to preventing hair loss due to chemotherapy treatments.

"That leads to decreased blood flow to the hair follicles and potentially that will cause less chemotherapy into the hair follicle area and prevent hair loss," Abraham said.

Abraham says women in the trial will be followed for five years to determine the long-term impact of the cooling cap.

For now, it appears to be a promising way to help women bypass an emotionally difficult side effect of fighting breast cancer. The cooling cap is not currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but the authors plan to submit the research for review.

The study was presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.