The diagnosis of cancer is devastating. The idea of undergoing chemotherapy is terrifying. And one of the indignities of chemotherapy treatment may often be hair loss, which can have a huge psychological impact for both men and women. But just as hair loss resulting from natural causes is far more emotionally traumatic for women than it is for men, women have a much harder time dealing with hair loss caused by chemotherapy.
Fortunately, there is something you can do to help keep some or even most of your hair from falling out while undergoing treatment for cancer. “Cold caps”, sold by a number of manufacturers under different brand names, are various styles of hats that are filled with a very cold gel (chilled to as low as -45 degrees Fahrenheit) and strapped tightly to the head. The caps are worn for several hours before, during and after a treatment. By dramatically cooling the scalp, the caps cause constriction of blood vessels, which are no longer able to deliver as much of the chemotherapy drug(s) to the hair follicles. Depending on a number of factors, including the type(s) of drug(s) used, the duration of treatment, and the underlying condition of the follicles (e.g., many men and women undergoing chemotherapy already have thinning hair), there may be a significant reduction in hair loss over the course of treatment.
Because the caps are so cold, it is not uncommon to get a headache while wearing the cap; indeed, patients may feel cold all over, so it makes sense to dress warmly and have blankets available during treatment.
Even though the cold temperature of the scalp is protective for follicles, your oncologist will probably advise you to
- be gentle when combing or brushing your hair for several months after the conclusion of treatment
- wash your hair with a mild shampoo (e.g., Johnson’s Baby Shampoo) and cool water no more often than twice a week
- and avoid heat (blow dryers, hot irons, rollers, etc.) and hair color until three months after completing chemotherapy
But it can all be worth the trouble.