Can Scalp Cooling Stop Hair Loss From Chemotherapy
Prema P. Peethambaram, MD, is a medical oncologist and Associate Professor of Oncology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She has a passion for treating womens cancers and providing compassionate cancer care.
Charles L. Loprinzi, MD, FASCO, is the Regis Professor of Breast Cancer Research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he is an emeritus chair of the Division of Medical Oncology and an emeritus vice-chair of the Department of Oncology. He is also the Cancer.Net Associate Editor for Psychosocial Oncology.
Ashley* had breast cancer and needed several rounds of chemotherapy to improve her chance of being cured. Her oncologist described the potential side effects, including hair loss. Ashley didnt want her colleagues to know she had cancer, and she worried that losing her hair would make it obvious. She shared this concern with her oncologist, who talked with her about trying to prevent hair loss with scalp-cooling therapy. Fortunately for Ashley, the therapy worked. She didnt lose significant amounts of hairor her privacyduring her chemotherapy treatments.
Could this story be possible? Yes. By cooling the scalp, scalp blood vessels narrow, which results in less chemotherapy reaching the hair follicles. In addition, cooler hair follicles become inactive, making them less susceptible to the treatment. The result can be reduced hair loss.
Dealing With Cancer Therapy Hair Loss
Hair loss can be one of the most difficult side effects of cancer treatments to deal with for both women and men. Talk with your doctor or nurse about your treatment plan and whether it may cause hair loss.
Hair loss occurs because many cancer treatments affect cancer cells and normal cells. This includes the cells that make hair grow.
Hair loss from cancer treatment is most often not permanent. Hair loss may affect all the hair on your body. Hair grows back once therapy has been completed. The amount of hair loss depends on the cancer treatment, the dose of treatment, and how it is given. If your treatment affects the hair, your hair may start falling out between seven to 21 days after you start your treatment.
In radiation, only hair that is in the area of radiation will be affected by hair loss. Only if radiation is given to the head will one lose hair on the head. Radiation given to other parts of the body will not cause hair on the head to fall out. Very rarely with radiation there might be an area where the hair is permanently thinner.
A Variety Of Head Coverings Are Available
If you feel self-conscious about hair loss, wearing a head covering might help. From wigs to scarves to hats, there are many options. Such coverings can also protect your head from sunlight exposure and cold air.
If you think you might want a wig that matches your natural hair color, considering buying it before you begin chemotherapy. This may help the wig shop to better match the color and texture of your hair. Try on different styles until you find one you like.
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How Is Dignicap Administered During Chemotherapy
The infusion staff fits the cooling cap 30 minutes prior to chemo administration.
A neoprene outer cap is placed over the silicone one for insulation.
Throughout the infusion the patient wears the cap.
If a restroom or other trip away from the infusion setup is necessary, the cap can be disconnected from the cooling unit, but the cap stays on the patients head.
After the treatment the patient continues to wear the cap for 30 to 150 minutes .
After post-infusion cooling is concluded, the cap stays on an additional 15 minutes the cap needs to warm back up.
Preventing as much hair loss from chemotherapy is very important to so many women.
Hair is more than just their crowning glory. A woman can be very intimately connected to her hair. Her hair may hold extreme sentimental value.
For instance, she may have loads of wonderful memories of her mother styling her hair during childhood. Or maybe her hair takes after her beloved grandmothers.
Preventing hair loss from chemotherapy is not a trivial matter this desire should be taken very seriously by the patients family and medical team.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. Shes also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.
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Where Can Someone Get Scalp Cooling
Over the last few years, scalp-cooling therapy has become more available at cancer centers. As of now, insurance does not generally cover the cost of this therapy to prevent hair loss but check with your insurance provider. There are also patient advocacy organizations, such as HairToStay and the Rapunzel Project, that are working to expand patients access to it.
*This story is a composite of many stories from people with cancer.
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Ways To Manage Hair Loss
Talk with your health care team about ways to manage before and after hair loss:
- Treat your hair gently. You may want to use a hairbrush with soft bristles or a wide-tooth comb. Do not use hair dryers, irons, or products such as gels or clips that may hurt your scalp. Wash your hair with a mild shampoo. Wash it less often and be very gentle. Pat it dry with a soft towel.
- You have choices. Some people choose to cut their hair short to make it easier to deal with when it starts to fall out. Others choose to shave their head. If you choose to shave your head, use an electric shaver so you wont cut yourself. If you plan to buy a wig, get one while you still have hair so you can match it to the color of your hair. If you find wigs to be itchy and hot, try wearing a comfortable scarf or turban.
- Protect and care for your scalp. Use sunscreen or wear a hat when you are outside. Choose a comfortable scarf or hat that you enjoy and that keeps your head warm. If your scalp itches or feels tender, using lotions and conditioners can help it feel better.
- Talk about your feelings. Many people feel angry, depressed, or embarrassed about hair loss. It can help to share these feelings with someone who understands. Some people find it helpful to talk with other people who have lost their hair during cancer treatment. Talking openly and honestly with your children and close family members can also help you all. Tell them that you expect to lose your hair during treatment.
Coping With Hair Loss
Hair is constantly growing, with old hairs falling out and being replaced by new ones. Some cancer treatments make people lose some or all of their hair, most often in clumps during shampooing or brushing.
Its normal for both men and women to feel upset about losing their hair. It helps to know that hair grows back, and you can take steps to make its loss less of problem for you.
Hair is lost when chemotherapy drugs damage hair follicles, making hair fall out. It can be hard to predict which patients will lose their hair and which ones wont, even when they take the same drugs. 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 1-3 weeks of treatment and becomes more noticeable 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.
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/ Is It Only The Hair On My Head That I Will Lose
Besides the hair on your head, you can also lose the rest of your body hair, i.e., the hair on your arms and legs, your eyebrows, eyelashes, armpit and pubic hair. Again, this depends on the type of chemotherapy and it can also vary from person to person.
Eyebrow And Eyelash Loss From Chemotherapy
Here are some of the ways you can create the look of fuller eyebrows and eyelashes if chemotherapy caused yours to fall out or become thinner:
- Use makeup products such as eyebrow pencils, eyebrow powders, tinted eyebrow gel, and eyebrow stencil kits to create a natural eyebrow shape or to help fill in sparse areas.
- Try stick-on false eyebrows or temporary eyebrow tattoos, which are available in many shades and shapes. Typically, theyre applied to the skin with special adhesive. If youre thinking of giving stick-on brows or temporary brow tattoos a try, check to see if your skin is sensitive to the adhesive and be careful when removing them since doing so can potentially rip out some of your remaining hair.
- Semi-permanent eyebrow tattoos can look quite natural and last 12-18 months. Microblading is done at specialized salons by licensed technicians. If youre considering microblading, check with your oncologist. He or she will probably recommend that you wait until youre done with chemotherapy before getting microblading because of the risk of infection and of being sensitive to the pigment.
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Some Health Insurance Plans Cover Wigs
If you have health insurance, it might partially or fully cover the cost of a wig. Consider calling your insurance provider to learn if the cost is covered. In order to receive reimbursement, you will probably need to ask your doctor for a prescription for a cranial prosthesis.
Some nonprofit organizations also help fund the cost of wigs for people in need. Ask your cancer care center or support group for more information about helpful resources.
Talk To Your Children
It can be stressful to think about how losing your hair might affect your children or grandchildren. Kids tend to cope better if they receive honest, age-appropriate information about whats going on, so its a good idea to prepare them for the physical changes you expect to have before starting treatment, explains Ms. Panzer.
Memorial Sloan Kettering offers a Kids Express program and a Parenting with Cancer support meeting designed to help adults with cancer communicate with their children about their illness. There are also books you can read with your children to help them understand that hair loss is common during cancer treatment.
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The Dignicap Hair Preservation Method Is Capable Of Preventing Just About All Hair Loss From Chemotherapy
In some patients. You dont know if youll be one of the lucky ones.
There is no data on what percentage of patients who use DigniCap® retain most of their hair, let alone all of it.
On the other hand, I cant see how youd ever regret giving this cooling system a try.
The FDA approves DigniCap® for helping prevent hair loss during chemotherapy.
Silicone cooling cap that snuggly fits the head, connected to a computer operated control and cooling unit.
Coolant circulates through the caps channels continuously, cooling the scalp.
Sensors ensure that optimal temperature is maintained at all times throughout chemo.
Scalp temperature is cooled enough to prevent the hair follicles from absorbing chemo drugs via blood supply. Cell metabolism is reduced.
DigniCap® has been in use for over a decade.
Not All Chemotherapy Causes Hair Loss
Some types of chemotherapy are more likely than others to cause hair loss. Talk to your doctor to learn if hair loss is a common side effect of the chemotherapy medications youve been prescribed. Your doctor can help you learn what to expect and when to expect it.
In most cases, hair loss begins within two to four weeks of starting chemotherapy, according to the Mayo Clinic. The degree of hair loss can vary, depending on the type and dose of chemotherapy drug given.
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Managing Your Hair Loss
Losing your hair can cause more than a change in your physical appearance. It can be an emotional challenge that affects your self-image and quality of life. It is important to be kind to yourself during this stressful time.
People cope with hair loss in different ways. Thinking about how you feel most comfortable in managing hair loss before, during, and after treatment may help. And, your choices may change over time.
Cold cap therapy
Wearing a cap that cools the scalp can help prevent hair loss from drugs given through a vein. This treatment is called scalp cryotherapy. You wear the cap before, during, and after chemotherapy.
The cold makes the blood vessels in the skin of your head narrower. Less blood and less of the chemotherapy drug reaches your hair follicles through the blood vessels. Keeping your scalp very cold also helps prevent damage to the hair follicles. Talk with your health care team to learn if cold cap therapy is available and might work for you.
An over-the-counter medication called minoxidil may help thinning hair from hormonal therapy or targeted therapy. It may also help if your hair does not grow back completely after chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a stem cell/bone marrow transplant.
There are also other medications you can take by mouth. These include spironolactone and finasteride .
Talking With Your Health Care Team About Hair Loss
Prepare for your visit by making a list of questions to ask. Consider adding these questions to your list:
- Is treatment likely to cause my hair to fall out?
- How should I protect and care for my head? Are there products that you recommend? Ones I should avoid?
- Where can I get a wig or hairpiece?
- What support groups could I meet with that might help?
- When will my hair grow back?
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Everyone Is Very Surprised At How Quickly How Thick How Fast My Hair Is Growing Back
Like many cancer patients facing chemotherapy, Jessica Heline of Tinton Falls was concerned about side effects, including a telltale one: hair loss. So, when an oncology nurse at Monmouth Medical Center mentioned that a scalp cooling system could help counteract that problem, Jessica figured it was worth a try.
It appealed to me because I learned I might keep my hairand if I did lose it, it would likely grow back faster afterward, says Jessica, 31, an engineer and mother of a 3-year-old boy.
Jessica was diagnosed with stage 2B invasive ductal carcinoma in her left breast in April 2019. Since cancer had spread to a few of her lymph nodes, her doctors recommended chemotherapy before surgery. While Jessica was primarily concerned with surviving the disease, she wanted to look as normal as possible.