Women with early-stage breast cancer who receive specific types of scalp-cooling treatments are much more likely to keep at least some of their hair during chemotherapy, according to two recent studies published Feb. 14 by JAMA.
Researchers in both studies done at various medical centers used a cooling system with a tight cap on a patients’ head before, during and after each chemotherapy session. One of the systems has FDA-approval; the other is awaiting approval, according to a Feb. 14 article in the New York Times.
Both studies had similar results.
In one study, researchers led by Hope S. Rugo, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, wrote, “Hair loss of 50% or less was seen in 66.3% of patients in the scalp cooling group vs. 0% of patients in the control group at four weeks after completing” chemotherapy. “Three of five quality-of-life measurements, including feeling less physically attractive, showed benefit for women who received scalp cooling.”
In a study led by Julia Nagia, MD, of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, of 142 women with breast cancer receiving a certain type of chemotherapy, “those who underwent scalp cooling were significantly more likely to have less than 50% hair loss compared with no scalp cooling,” the authors wrote.
“Three of five quality-of-life measurements, including feeling less physically attractive, showed benefit for women who received scalp cooling.”
Researchers in both studies said scalp cooling “is more effective for patients who are receiving certain types of chemotherapy that do not incorporate a cancer drug called anthracycline,” according to the New York Times article. “Scalp cooling is used only in patients with solid tumors, including breast cancer, and may not be appropriate for patients with blood cancers.”
Treatment with the one FDA-approved cooling cap costs up to $3,000 per patient and is generally not covered by insurance, according to the New York Times article.
But, “having these two papers published back to back” could influence insurance companies to pay for the procedure, Rugo said in the article.
Freezing scalps to preserve hair loss during chemotherapy is not new. “In the past decades, scalp cooling has been practiced with several methods, such as simple bags with crushed ice, frozen cryogel packs and packs with an endothermic cooling reaction,” according to an article in Medscape.
The cooling machines used in the two American studies use chilled circulated air via a specialized machine. Those systems have the advantage of being able to be used in a one-size-fits-all manner, according to Medscape. Outcomes are affected by whether a patient has had previous chemotherapy, hair characteristics, type of chemotherapy and other factors.