Cold cap therapy prevents hair loss in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy for non-malignant and solid tumors. This therapy involves scalp hypothermia to cool the scalp with cold caps before, during, and after each chemotherapy treatment to prevent or reduce hair loss. The technology has evolved to include a two-piece system with a computer that aids in circulating the chilled liquid through the cap. The second part of the system covers the cap to hold it in place and prevent the cold from leaving.
Chemotherapy attacks rapidly dividing cells, which includes one’s hair cells. Therefore, this treatment aims to decrease the activity of hair follicles to make them less attractive to chemo. This is accomplished by cooling, tightening up, or limiting blood vessels in the scalp to reduce the chemo reaching the hair follicles.
Before cooling caps were used, scalp hypothermia using ice packs did not have clear results. On the other hand, the new method of computer-controlled cooling cap systems has been successful in limiting and preventing hair loss. For instance, a recent study of women receiving chemo for early-stage breast cancer concluded that at least half of the women only lost less than half of their hair. This study also found that the results can be attributed to the specific kind of chemotherapy drug used, the dosage, and the patient’s response. Another contributing factor is the thickness of one’s hair with research showing that a patient with a thicker hair layer could lose more hair because their scalp will not cool down enough. Lastly, human error in applying the cooling cap can impact the results because a loose cap can lead to hair loss in patches.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital conducted a study where they began cooling 30-45 minutes before chemo, with extra time implemented for those with thicker hair. They took cautious steps by having a trained staff member ensure that the cap is properly on and a bedside nurse monitoring the patient. When treatment ends, the trained member will remove the cap, shut off the device, and evaluate the patient. Ultimately, cold cap therapy offers people the ability to reduce and prevent hair loss when receiving chemotherapy.
By Lindsay Probst’24, SNHS Member