Probably one of the first questions most people ask when they find out they need chemotherapy to treat a cancer diagnosis is “Will my hair fall out?”. It is really distressing to lose your hair for many reasons.
First, it makes everyone around you keenly aware you have cancer. Secondly, you may be overwhelmed with treatments, feeling lousy from the side effects, and scared of the eventual outcome of your diagnosis. Third, your identity changes once your hair is gone.
In the 1970’s, a therapy called “cold capping” came around. Cold caps work by narrowing the blood vessels beneath the skin of the scalp, reducing the amount of chemotherapy medicine that reaches the hair follicles. With less chemotherapy medicine in the follicles, the hair may be less likely to fall out. Fifty to 60% of people who use cold caps find the therapy effective in reducing hair loss.
The cold caps are worn 20-50 minutes before, during, and after chemo treatments. The cap is filled with gel set to -22 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit and is changed every 20 to 30 minutes to keep the scalp cold. Because the caps are so cold, some women get a headache while wearing them, Most dress warmly and cover with blankets during the treatments.
Women who use cold caps or scalp cooling systems during chemotherapy have to treat their hair gently. No blow drying, hot rollers, etc. Decrease the frequency of shampooing to twice a week. No hair coloring until 3 months after chemo is done. Very gentle brushing.
The cost of the cold caps is similar to having a wig made. There are organizations that provide financial assistance to those who cannot afford cold cap therapy. A new non-profit, Cap & Conquer was formed in February 2020 to assist women in Southeast Michigan facing hair loss from chemo. The Rapunzel Project and Hair to Stay are other foundations that can help.
There are many things to consider when faced with a new cancer diagnosis. Receiving chemo doesn’t have to result in losing your hair. Consider your options.