People who are diagnosed with cancer often are so shocked by the bad news that they feel they are losing control of their lives. It can be overwhelming.
Those diagnosed with cancer often feel as if their choices are limited. They end up putting their future in the hands of oncologists and cancer care teams.
But there is one choice more people are making if they are treated through chemotherapy – a choice that can help preserve a patient’s dignity and appearance.
One of the more visible and common side effects of chemotherapy is hair loss. Enter the science of cold capping, a technology that cools the head during chemotherapy treatments, allowing some patients to retain at least a portion of their hair.
Two 2017 articles in the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursingidentify that hair loss is the most feared side effect of chemotherapy for as many as 75 percent of patients, and that cold caps, or scalp cooling, offers the best available option for mitigating the problem.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of cold-cap treatment in 2015. Since then patients have been successful in keeping some or all of their hair during chemotherapy.
Cold caps and scalp cooling systems are tightly fitting, strap-on, helmet-type hats filled with a gel coolant that’s chilled to between minus-15 to minus-40 degrees, according to breastcancer.org. The process works by narrowing the blood vessels beneath the skin of the scalp, which reduces the amount of chemotherapy meds that reach the follicles, which means less hair loss occurs. The cold temperatures also decrease hair follicle activity, slowing down cell division and slowing cell division, which also lessens the chemotherapy’s effect on hair.
During each chemotherapy session, patients wear the caps or cooling systems for up to an hour before treatment, during and after the chemotherapy session is finished. If using the caps, which must be replaced about every half hour during a treatment, the patient usually rents caps and special freezer used in the therapy.
Scalp cooling systems – such as DigniCap and Paxman – allow the cap to be connected to a small refrigeration unit that circulates coolant, so the cap only has to be fitted once and not changed during a session. The systems are usually property of the cancer treatment center and patients are charged for its use.