By the time someone is going through their first cycle of chemotherapy it is fair to say they are already in a significantly distressed condition. The associated hair loss can be relieved at this difficult time with the use of scalp cooling.
Why Does Chemo Cause Hair Loss?
Any chemotherapy therapy which are taxanes and/or anthracycline-based will result in hair loss, usually complete hair loss… and usually after just one session. It is in its very nature to target fast-dividing cells, unfortunately hair cells fall squarely into that category. It is an aggressive therapy designed to remove every single cancerous cell, so naturally has a similar effect on the hair cells.
What Is Scalp Cooling?
Extreme cold was recognised as being a significant and positive factor in the survival of soldiers during the Second World War. Soldiers with identical wounds in hot climates would die at high rates compared to those in cold climates… where survival might even be expected for an almost certainly fatal wound received in the hotter location.
Around 50 years ago the first experiments were performed using tourniquets and crushed ice. The tourniquet was there to reduce the flow of blood to the region while the ice cooled the scalp. Modern scalp cooling involves a fitted skull cap, it cools the scalp to below 20 degrees and restricts blood supply to the region. The reduced blood flow lowers the metabolic rate in the region and slows down the rate at which the cells divide, this in turn limits the amount of drug delivered to target hair cells.
The cap is worn for a short time before treatment, usually around half an hour, and then again for up to two hours after treatment. Increasingly these caps are available through the chemotherapy clinic, as the technology has proven its efficacy over time, but it is also possible to buy or rent your own.
Does It Work?
There is plenty of evidence to indicate that the use of a scalp cooling cap can both reduce the effect of chemo on your hair cells, a related benefit being that it also reduces the time taken for them to recover.
The future promises to benefit from an ever improving understanding of exactly how these processes actually play out, a better grasp of what happens inside a cell when you cool it will lead to improvements in the technology. In the meantime, it is a valuable addition to the support available to chemo patients.