Scalp-Cooling Caps May Prevent Hair Loss for Cancer Patients

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A new scalp-cooling system may stop hair loss for women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, researchers said at that San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

“Scalp cooling devices are highly effective and should become available to women with breast cancer receiving chemotherapy,” lead author Dr. Julie Rani Nangia of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, said during a media briefing.

It is believed that lowering the temperature of the scalp slows the blood flow to the hair follicles and can reduce hair loss in cancer patients.

Credit: YouTube, Baylor College of Medicine
Credit: YouTube, Baylor College of Medicine

The Scalp Cooling Alopecia Prevention (SCALP) Trial examined 235 women. Each woman had stage one or two breast cancer and was about to undergo at least four runs of chemotherapy with anthracycline or taxane — both known causes of hair loss.

The volunteers were then split into two groups — one group received the scalp cooling Orbis Paxman Hair Loss Prevention System (OPHLPS) and the other group did not.

After the patients completed their four rounds of chemotherapy treatment, over 50 percent of the volunteers in the cooling caps experienced hair preservation. None of the patients in the non-cooling group had their hair preserved.

The cooling caps were fitted to a patient’s heads 30 minutes before their chemotherapy treatment began. The caps stayed on their heads for the entire chemo session and for an additional 90 minutes after the treatment. The caps cooled volunteers’ scalps to 64 degrees, and the side effects were mild. Some experienced headaches, nausea, dizziness and mild discomfort.

“The big downside is it adds an hour onto [total] chemotherapy time,” Nangia said.

Nangia also explained that the difficulty of perfectly fitting the caps to the patients’ heads may have impacted how effective it was in preventing hair loss.

The women who participated in the SCALP trial will be followed for five years to closely monitor their survival and possible metastasis of the scalp.

Nangia said that cooling cap technology is already fairly common in Europe but has been slow to catch on in the United States due to concerns over cancer spreading to the scalp. But experts say those concerns are unfounded.

“We have tons of data from different trials looking at the site of first recurrence in patients with stage 1 or 2 breast cancer, and I don’t think we found a single patient that recurred in the scalp only, ever,” said briefing moderator Dr. Kent Osborne, co-director of the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium and also from Baylor College of Medicine.

Paxman, who manufactures the OPHLPS, is trying to get clearance for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In December 2015, the FDA approved another scalp-cooling system called DigniCap made by Dignitana Inc.

Danielle Tarasiuk
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.
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