Hair loss is the thing that worries most women when they are diagnosed. There are some alternatives to hair loss, but not all hospitals and cancer units are telling you about them - so we are.
Will I Lose My Hair?
The thing that worries most women when they are diagnosed is hair loss and how the change in their appearance will affect them and those around them. Everyone expects to lose their hair – no-one seems to realise that, in many cases, it can be prevented. Today the most frequently used chemotherapy protocols cause complete hair loss. Using a Cold Cap during every chemo treatment can reduce hair loss significantly and in many cases prevent it all together.
Have you even heard of a Cold Cap? They are used in many NHS hospitals and specialist cancer units. They are costly and so are used more by private healthcare providers than they are in the NHS. Some private health insurers even provide Cold Caps (and gloves and slippers to help prevent nail loss and damage to the hands and feet) for use at home during home administered chemo. All cancer patients should know about cold caps as their impact on maintaining appearance can be so significant. Not all cancer treatment protocols are compatible with cold cap use and you should ask your medical team if the use of cold caps is suitable during your treatment.
Types Of Cold Caps
There are two types of Cold Cap. One is like a small air-con unit attached to what can only be described as a swimming cap. Cold air circulates over the scalp as chemo is administered. Cooling must start before chemo and continue afterwards so it prolongs the length of time you are on the ward. These machines are owned by the hospital and kept on the ward. The second type of cooling cap is also provided by hospitals in the UK and overseas. These Hypothermia Cold Caps are not connected to machinery and so patients are free to move whilst wearing them, although the caps are heavier to wear than the air con alternative and so one may not wish to move around too much. The Hypothermia Cold Cap has been in use very successfully in the UK Europe and countries worldwide for many years now. Many studies have shown the correct use of these caps to reduce Chemotherapy related Alopecia (hair loss). The Hypothermia Cold Cap is preferred by some as the results are the same as other methods, but they are reliable, don’t break down, are not powered by electricity and are not expensive to use after the original purchase cost. The Elastogel Hypothermia Cold Cap is perfect for patients receiving Chemotherapy in a unit that doesn’t offer any method of scalp cooling as many hospitals allow patients to bring their own cooling caps to the ward for use during chemo. The caps need to be frozen before use. Some hospitals freeze the caps for their patients and others ask patients to freeze the caps at home and bring them into hospital in a good quality freezer bag. Some hospitals in the UK still do not offer any system of scalp cooling. We want as many of you to be able to recognise yourself as you go through treatment. Loosing hair for some patients happens after their first treatment and it can be psychologically devastating for both men and women. Patients suffering hair loss often describe how their confidence is lost too and how they are prevented from carrying out everyday tasks. Hair does grow back within a short time, but why loose it if you don’t have to. Ask your chemotherapy nurse if scalp cooling is available and suitable for you. If your unit is unable to provide you with one of their cooling systems, ask them if you can bring your own. Some patients prefer to have their own for reasons of hygiene (although hospitals provide hygienic liners).
How Do They Work?
Cold Caps reduce the flow of the blood to the hair follicles as the lower temperature causes the blood vessels feeding the hair to reduce in size. Less blood reaches the hair follicle and, as the chemo drugs are carried in the blood, less of the chemo drug reaches the hair follicle. It is the drug that destroys the hair follicle cells, causing hair loss. The Elastogel Hypothermia Cold Cap is made from glycerine hydrogel and remains flexible and soft even when frozen. The cap can be wiped with but not immersed in water. The number of caps that you need depends on how long the chemotherapy treatment lasts for. The caps need changing every 45 minutes and they should be in place 15 minutes before the chemotherapy infusion starts and left in place 15 minutes after the infusion is finished. The air con system based caps remain in place for the duration of chemo and do not need to be changed.