Prevent Chemo Hair Loss with Cold Capping/Scalp Cooling System
“Wow! No one would ever guess she’s just finished her breast cancer chemo treatments.”
This was my first thought when I saw my friend Mary following her treatments. After five long months of intense chemotherapy, Mary managed to keep most of her hair. She looked about the same as she did when she began chemo.
I certainly didn’t look like that when I finished chemotherapy. I still had some hair left which I cut into an extremely short (and thin) pixie cut. But I still felt I looked like a breast cancer patient.
No, she looked great. And thankfully, she won’t have to wait months for her hair to grow back to its pre-chemo length.
So, what’s Mary’s secret? How did she prevent her hair from falling out during chemo? She used a scalp cooling system.
When I underwent chemotherapy five years ago, no one mentioned the option of scalp cooling or cold capping systems. I learned about it later, but it wasn’t available in my area during my treatments. However, the system’s popularity and access have grown in the last few years and are now available in many treatment centers worldwide.
And it’s yielding excellent results for women receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer.
What is Cold Capping or Scalp Cooling Systems?
Cold Capping or Scalp Cooling systems use tightly fitted helmet-like caps filled with cold gel or liquid. The patient wears it around their head during chemotherapy treatment.
The gel or liquid keeps the scalp extremely cold (approximately -20 degrees Fahrenheit) during the chemotherapy treatment and causes the blood vessels to constrict. This prevents the chemo from reaching the hair follicles, thus preserving the hair.
According to BreastCancer.org, there are two types of systems available: the Cold Cap System and the Scalp Cooling System.
Cold Cap System
With the cold cap system, you use several cold caps that are similar to ice packs. These caps are kept cold in dry ice or a biomedical freezer before wearing them. This system requires manually removing the cap when it starts to warm and replacing it with a cold one from the freezer every 20-30 minutes. Patients can’t change these caps themselves, so they need someone trained to attach the cap correctly to the patient’s head.
Scalp Cooling System
The Scalp Cooling system or automated cooling system uses a cap with a hose that attaches to a portable computer-controlled cooling machine. This machine keeps the cap at a consistently cool temperature the entire time, so there’s no need to change caps.
You’ll need to check with your treatment facility to find out if they offer the scalp cooling system as an option for you. I’ve just given you a summary of what Cold Capping is. For more detailed information, check out this BreastCancer.org post on cold cap and scalp cooling systems.
How to Use a Cold Cap during Chemotherapy Treatments
My friend Mary, who used the Dignicap Scalp Cooling System, provided me with some information and pictures to share with you on this process. Thanks, Mary, for being willing to share your experiences with others. 😊
You must follow the company’s precise instructions. Otherwise, you won’t receive the benefits you hope for.
The first step once you arrive at your chemotherapy appointment and before attaching the cooling system is to wet your hair thoroughly.
After that, a velcroed cap with little tubes running through it is tightly wrapped around your head and attached to the cooling machine. Then a soft helmet that covers the first cap is firmly attached to your head—making it a two-part system.
The machine is then turned on. Mary said the coldness was uncomfortable for the first few minutes, but that feeling quickly passed. An added benefit she noticed was it prevented her from having massive headaches or nausea during treatment.
The amount of time you are on the cooling system depends on the medicines you are receiving. In Mary’s case, she was on the cooling system 30 minutes before receiving treatment and continued to wear it until three hours after her AC treatments were administered. When Mary she began getting Taxol treatments, the time decreased to 1 1/2 hours after completing the infusion.
In addition to wearing the cap during treatment, Mary did other things to help improve her success using the scalp cooling system. She only washed her hair once per week using certain recommended hair products. She was also careful to brush her hair gently, didn’t use blow dryers or curling iron, and to not touch or do anything that would pull on her hair.
Does Cold Capping to Prevent Chemo Hair Loss Work?
So it worked for Mary, but does it work for most people?
Yes. Cold Capping and Scalp Cooling Systems work. However, the results vary.
Most people keep at least 50-80% of their hair, while others keep even more. All patients will have some shedding. That’s because older hair may fall out during the chemotherapy process. It’s the younger, stronger hair you are trying to save.
The results, however, depend on many factors: what chemotherapy prescription you’re taking, whether you follow all the steps of cold capping correctly, and how your hair responds.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to know if you will keep 50% of your hair or 80%? There’s no way to tell if your hair loss will occur evenly or if your hair will come out in one or more patchy areas. There’s just no guarantee on how your hair will respond.
But Cold Capping gives you a chance to at least try and keep your hair. Plus, it gives you a little more control over your treatment at a time when you feel you have very little control. And it gives you hope that you won’t lose all your hair.
As you can see in Mary’s picture, cold capping was a tremendous success for her. She received 16 chemo treatments (AC and then Taxol) and kept more than 60% of her hair. And, while her hair thinned, no one would ever guess she had undergone chemotherapy treatments.
The Pros and Cons of Cold Capping to Prevent Chemo Hair Loss
So, is cold capping or scalp cooling systems right for you?
High Overall Success Rate – Cold Capping is yielding excellent results in patients being able to keep most of their hair during chemotherapy.
Allows You to Maintain Your Privacy – Because you keep your hair, you don’t automatically display to the world you’re a cancer patient.
Improves Your Self-Esteem, Emotional, and Mental Health – Keeping your hair makes you feel better about your appearance and improves how you feel about yourself. And it removes some of the mental battles you face as a breast cancer patient.
Protects Your Children – Because young children might associate extreme hair loss or sudden baldness with you being ill, it protects them from being scared and upset about your appearance.
Don’t have to Wait for Hair to Grow Back – Regrowing your hair from bald to a stylable length is a long, slow process that can take several months.
Feeling of Being in Control – So much about having cancer is out of our control. And being proactive in keeping your hair can give you a sense of being in control.
Cost of Treatment – Cold capping can be expensive (anywhere from $300 a month to $3225 for your total chemotherapy treatment), and insurance may or may not cover the cost.
Uncomfortable – When you first apply the cold cap, it’s uncomfortable. Some say it feels like a “brain freeze.” The feeling usually subsides within a few minutes; however, it can be painful if you’re extremely sensitive to cold.
Very Cold and Heavy – Some people get a headache when wearing cold caps; however, the headache usually goes away once you remove the cap.
It’s Time-Consuming – Because you have to apply the cap up to an hour before beginning chemo and keep it on for a prescribed time after your treatment, it lengthens the time you are at your infusion center.
More to Take with You and More Work – It requires more work before and during your treatments. You must bring the caps and perhaps a cooler with dry ice to keep them cold. You may also need a blanket to keep you warm and a neck pillow to keep your neck from hurting from the cap’s weight. All these things add up to additional time and work for you.
There’s no Guarantee it Will Work – As I mentioned above, there’s no way to know how much hair you will lose.
How to Decide if Cold Capping is for You
Deciding whether you will cold cap is a decision only you can make. It depends on many factors. First is the monetary cost. Can you afford to do it? Will your insurance pay for it? Can you get help through an organization such as Hair to Stay or Sharsheret? Or are you willing to pay out-of-pocket so you can keep your hair?
Next, is it worth the time, effort, cost, and discomfort? How much does it bother you to lose your hair? These are questions only you can answer.
If losing your hair is a concern to you, and you want to do whatever you can to prevent it, cold capping or scalp cooling may be just what you need.
From Mary’s perspective, a scalp cooling system was worth it. “I believe this has been my saving grace in my chemotherapy. I was able to keep most of my hair and looked and felt like me, even when I was feeling miserable. I could confidently go out and know that no one knew I was going through chemo. And because strangers didn’t know, I protected my kids and grandkids from others intruding in my space and theirs. It’s not vain. It’s the best product made to date to help Cancer patients!”
So what are your thoughts on preventing chemo hair loss with cold capping and scalp cooling systems? I’d love to know. Please post in the comments below.