Can the art of scalp cooling be the new non-surgical procedure to help prevent and slow hair loss?
A new hair loss preventative measure for chemo patients called scalp cooling is gaining popularity as it nears FDA approval. Patients like Kim Nyalka have found the treatment to be a success thus far after exploring options when she began undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.
A year into her treatments, the Pittsburgh resident tells Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that scalp cooling has been a success thus far. Nyalka reports that the procedure, while a bit burdensome, has not only helped her keep her hair, but has made the process easier on her family.
“It’s really made this past year of treatment much less of an issue — for me and for my family,” she said. “Just for keeping normalcy in our family, not having her worry, and not having her be afraid.”
The scalp cooling process requires 80 pounds of dry ice, costs hundreds of dollars, and the user must endure hours of intense cold. But users, including Nyalka, say the pros far out-weigh the cons.
“When I first put them on, particularly during the first cool-down, it’s so cold it hurts,” said Nyalka. “You sort of get used to it, and then it doesn’t bother me as much.”
How Does it Work?
One of the emerging names in scalp cooling is a company out of England called Penguin Cold Caps. Like HIS Hair, Penguin Cold Caps was founded in the UK nearly two decades ago and is well established in it’s home country, but has since made the move into the American market.
The scalp cooling cold caps are made from a medical grade plastic with a nylon covering. The cap is flexible and pliable, and can fit any size head. The cap itself is then wrapped around the patients head, similar to the same way a turban is. Inside the cap is a crylon gel that allows for the cold to be transferred directly to the scalp.
And what good does this do? By cooling the hair capillaries and lowering the metabolic rate of the hair follicles to a hibernated state, scalp cooling can prevent the absorption of chemotherapeutic drugs into the hair bulbs of the scalp — thus protecting the existing hair.
Worth the Investment
While the caps are waiting for full FDA approval, patients interested in scalp cooling must first rent the caps and pay for the materials necessary for the cap to work its magic.
Nyalka underwent chemotherapy every three weeks for full year. Her and her family committed to scalp cooling as an preventative to the fall out from chemo, which means she rented a cap for the duration of that time.
The cooling caps cost $600 a month to rent, plus the cost of the dry ice needed. In Nyalka’s case, she required 80 pounds of dry ice to get the cooling cap to cool down to necessary 22 degrees fahrenheit.
But the investment isn’t all money. The patient will need to endure 3-4 hours of intense cold, switching the caps out every 30 minutes for a fresh cooling cap.
That’s quite the investment.
New cooling caps are emerging on the market. DigniCaps have a more helmet design and can remain for full the treatment sessions by circulating a cold gel continuously through the cap itself.
The Success Rate
Penguin Cold Caps reports that their scalp cooling caps are effective in about 86 percent of patients. In DigniCap’s case, a five year clinical trial conducted in the US reported by the American Society of Clinical Oncology found that their scalp cooling caps prevented hair loss in 70 percent of their patients.
It should be noted that the results vary depending on the type of chemotherapy drug used.
Some doctors are skeptical, but don’t discourage patients from using them. But Nancy Marshall, co-found of the Rapunzel Project (a “non-profit organization dedicated to helping chemotherapy patients keep their hair during treatment”) and a cancer survivor, said, “One of the biggest side effects is loss of hair. If this can address that, it’s wonderful. The effect of hair loss on cancer patients is about more than just vanity.”
Marshall continued saying, “If you have heart disease and you walk down the street no one knows. When you have diabetes no one knows — your medical situation is your business. When you have cancer, it’s everyone’s business.”
Hair loss of any kind can wreck havoc one’s self esteem. Couple the hair loss with cancer and you get what can seem like a bleak situation. However, if this new procedure can help reduce the concern and help put the focus on more important things (and assuming the patient has ways and means to do it), then why not go for it?
“I would love to see it more readily available to more women,” says Nyalka. “They ought to at least know that you have a choice. Psychologically, it makes you feel like you have some control.”