Hair loss has seemed an unavoidable side effect of chemotherapy. But on Tuesday, two new studies gave hope to breast cancer patients.
For up to five hours during chemotherapy, a cooling cap pumps a below-freezing coolant into a helmet surrounding Tami Richardson’s scalp. She’s been undergoing chemo to treat her stage IV breast cancer for several weeks.
“How does it feel on your head? It’s cold,” CBS News asked.
“Yes. The first 10, 15 minutes when it’s cooling down feels very similar to a frost bitten hands or ice cream head,” Richardson said. “Kind of feels like both of those, maybe times five.”
Tuesday’s studies focused on women with breast cancer and whether using cooling caps can prevent hair loss. One study found that half of the women who got scalp cooling kept at least 50 percent of their hair, compared to no women keeping their hair in the group without the cap.
The second study found that two-thirds of the women who had scalp cooling retained their hair.
Chemotherapy works by targeting all rapidly dividing cells in the body, like hair. The cooling cap works by lowering the temperature of the scalp by a few degrees during chemo, and reduces the blood flow to hair follicles, which may prevent or minimize the hair loss.
Richardson had breast cancer once before and lost her hair. All the more reason to make this time different.
“I would go to the grocery store and people that I knew would kind of run away,” said Richardson. “They didn’t know what to say.”
“So, if you have your hair, the reality is people just don’t know,” CBS News asked.
“Yeah, they don’t,” Richardson said.
Because Dignicaps has been cleared for use by the FDA, it can sometimes be covered by insurance. Other forms of cold caps can cost up to $500 a month during chemo.
Researchers called for additional studies over concerns that if the chemo is not getting to the scalp, cancer might develop there.