Cool cap may help cancer patients

By • Published: May 4th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

One of the first things patients about to undergo chemotherapy ask about is their hair.

Will they lose it? And how long before it grows back?

Now, clinicians at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical School and the University of California, San Francisco, will study breast cancer patients to determine whether a device that cools the scalp during chemotherapy can preserve hair growth.

Clinicians in Europe, Canada and Japan already use the equipment, which was developed by a Swedish company and employs a tight-fitting, insulated cap that circulates coolant. It is equipped with sensors to make sure that cooling takes place safely and consistently across all areas of the scalp.

The cooling cap is only worn during chemotherapy and for a short period afterward.

The patient’s hair is moistened and the cooling cap begins at room temperature.

When the coolant circulates, the temperature drops to about forty-one degrees Fahrenheit.

Researchers say the device protects hair follicles by contracting the blood vessels surrounding the hair roots.

The result is reduced flow of toxins to the hair follicle. In addition, the lower temperature also impedes absorption of the chemotherapy into the hair follicles.

The device safely prevents some hair loss, according to international studies of nearly one thousand chemotherapy patients.

Now, because the Food and Drug Administration has OK’d a feasibility test involving 20 breast cancer patients, the technique is moving toward becoming commercially available in the United States.

If it receives preliminary F-D-A approval, the next step will be to test the effectiveness of the device in patients with stage one or stage two breast cancer.

In the end, if the equipment proves to be safe and effective, it may give patients a little extra peace of mind during the difficult phase of breast cancer treatment.

That would be a cool device indeed.