(KUTV) — One of the most well-known side effects of chemotherapy is hair-loss. However, a special kind of hat is helping patients keep their hair during cancer treatment.
“The goal of these caps is to cool the scalp,” says Dr. Margaret Van Meter, Intermountain Healthcare Oncologist.
Connected to a machine that continuously circulates cold liquid, cancer cold caps are saving the hair of patients going through chemotherapy.
“The theory is that this works probably in two says. One is that any part of our body causes the blood vessels to constrict,” says Dr. Van Meter.
By cooling the scalp, it limits the amount of blood flow to the hair follicles. Dr. Van Meter says they also believe that the cooling decreases the metabolic rate of the follicle cells.
Chemotherapy is designed to kill off fast growing cells in the body, and hair follicles are some of the fastest.
“So if we can slow down the growth and the metabolism of the hair follicles, that might make them less susceptible to chemotherapy,” says Dr. Van Meter.
Saving your hair might seem superficial when battling a deadly disease, but for some patients, it’s a barrier to get treatment.
“I do have women who come to me who say that they would rather die than lose their hair,” says Dr. Van Meter.
And nowcold caps are giving them an option.
This treatment is currently approved and felt to be safe for people with solid tumors — such as breast cancer, colon cancer, and lung cancer. It is not approved for blood cancers.
“Would not include things at this point in time like leukemia’s or lymphomas,” says Dr. Van Meter.
In the studies, cold cap success is defined as losing 50% of your hair or less. The chance of success varies based on what type of chemotherapy somebody is receiving — some are more successful than others.
If you choose to use a cold cap, your time in the infusion center will be a little bit longer, and it can be uncomfortable. Dr. Van Meter relates it to stepping into an ice bath.
One of the biggest barriers is that it is not yet covered by insurance companies. There are some efforts underway to help it be more affordable for patients who want it as part of their treatment.