Tags: cancer | chemotherapy | baldness | FDA

Are Cold Caps Worth It?

By    |   Tuesday, 07 April 2015 04:45 PM EDT

When receiving chemotherapy treatment, the last thing I would have wanted was to apply a freezing cap to my scalp to prevent hair loss.

But a growing number of female cancer patients are doing just that: freezing their scalps with a specialized cap worn tightly on the head before, during, and for a couple of hours after a chemotherapy session.

The cold temperature reduces blood flow to the scalp, making it harder for cancer-fighting drugs to harm hair follicles.

Those who want more information on cold caps can visit Rapunzleproject.org, a nonprofit dedicated to helping women keep their hair during cancer treatment.

Judging from some 3,850 comments on Breastcancer.org, the cold cap was the only way for many women to feel relatively normal during and after chemotherapy. But some experts are concerned that it could prevent chemotherapy from reaching stray cancer cells lurking in the scalp.

"Do they work and are they safe? Those are the two big holes. We just don't know," American Cancer Society spokeswoman Kimberly Stump-Sutliff told the Associated Press.

According to Breastcancer.org, it’s important to know that cold caps don’t work for everyone. In multiple small studies, cold caps were considered highly effective in 50 to 60 percent of the women who used them.

The treatment, already widely used in Europe, is not just uncomfortable but expensive as well — $600 a month. And if women don’t have someone on hand to help, it can run another $300 to $750 per session to hire “cappers” to apply the treatment.

Brands include Penguin Cold Caps, Chemo Cold Caps, and ElastoGels, which can be chilled with dry ice in your own cooler or in a special freezer at the chemotherapy treatment center.

A cap is usually worn for about 30 minutes before it warms and has to be replaced. The caps may have to be changed several times during a chemotherapy treatment.

The DigniCap System and Paxman Scalp Cooling System caps connect to a cooling/control unit that chills the cap to the proper temperature. Because the control unit chills these systems, the caps don’t have to be changed during treatment.

DigniCap recently got FDA approval for phase 2 clinical trials, paving the way for FDA market approval — and, some hope, insurance coverage.

But I wonder: Could insurance coverage of cold caps be one more thing to raise rates for everyone else, and shouldn’t resources be deployed for treatments that are necessary? (For some women, it may be emotionally necessary, but where do you draw a line?)

I tend to agree with a woman who wrote this in a letter to “The New York Times” after the paper ran a story about the treatment: “So many people can’t afford desperately needed cancer treatments. I hope that hair does not become another have/have not issue. Hair, no hair, be proud, fight back and, most importantly, let’s find a cure for cancer so we don’t have to have this conversation anymore.”

Personally, I didn’t like the feeling of wearing a wig (which was covered by insurance). But I didn’t like going around bald either, so I wore long scarves that extended down my back, mimicking my old ponytail.

Over the course of six years of treatment, my hair fell out and grew back more times than I can count. It was devastating each time because it seemed like I had just cultivated the new hair when I lost it again.

But as a consolation prize, the last time my hair came back much darker than it had been. I don’t even have to color it anymore. A perk, as it were.

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A growing number of female cancer patients are freezing their scalps with a specialized cap worn tightly on the head before, during, and for a couple of hours after a chemotherapy session.
cancer, chemotherapy, baldness, FDA
Tuesday, 07 April 2015 04:45 PM
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