Newly diagnosed cancer patients have a lot to process. For women, the inevitable loss of hair is often one of the hardest. There is a new technology making its way to the US that is looking to eliminate this problem from several patients’ lists of worries.
The practice of “Scalp Cooling” which works by reducing the temperature of the scalp a few degrees immediately before, during and after chemotherapy — has been shown to be highly effective for preserving hair in women receiving neoadjuvant or adjuvant chemotherapy for early-stage breast cancer. The hair loss prevention system in this study uses cooling fluid to keep the helmet and scalp cold, causing cutaneous vasoconstriction, also potentially resulting in reduced biochemical activity. Experts believe this may help reduce cellular uptake of the agents and/or decrease susceptibility of hair follicles to chemotherapy-induced damage. Hair follicles in the growth phase are sensitive to chemotherapy, resulting in alopecia approximately two weeks after treatment begins. Effectiveness of scalp cooling for hair preservation varies by chemotherapy type and dose, and some evidence also suggests by the degree and duration of cooling.
During the trial, women who were treated with scalp cooling wore a cap or helmet with circulating cooling fluid for half an hour before chemotherapy, during chemotherapy administration, and for 90 minutes after the completion of chemotherapy. Patients in the control group did not wear any cap before, during or after their treatment. The interim results revealed that 48 of 95 patients in the intervention group, or 50.5 percent were able to preserve their hair, while none of the 47 patients in the control group kept their hair.
The scalp cooling system, which has not proven effective for every patient and shouldn’t be used with certain chemo drugs, was approved by the FDA in May of 2017. Systems are currently being rolled out to hospitals nationwide, bringing more comfort to more patients that need it most.
Where Are They Now
There are currently two devices approved in the United States for scalp cooling to limit chemotherapy induced hair loss. These systems were approved in December of 2015 and in April of 2017 for use in patients with breast cancer. FDA clearance of these devices was recently expanded to include their use on patients with solid tumors. These approvals were expanded in July of 2017 and June of 2018.