Some people find scalp cooling helps to prevent hair loss from chemotherapy. There is no known way to prevent hair loss from radiotherapy, hormonal therapies or biological therapies.
By cooling the scalp during chemotherapy, it’s sometimes possible to reduce the amount of chemotherapy that reaches the hair follicles on your scalp. This reduces and, in some cases, it can prevent the hair from falling out.
There are two widely available methods for scalp cooling.
This method uses a special cap that is filled with cold gel. It can be fitted easily and kept in place with Velcro®. The cap can often be uncomfortable and heavy, as well as being very cold. This can give some people a headache. It also needs to be changed every 20–40 minutes to keep your scalp cool.
Refrigerated cooling system
The other type of scalp cooling uses a refrigerated cooling system that pumps liquid coolant through a cap. This type of cap generally feels lighter than a gel-filled cap. You need to sit next to the machine while the cap is in place, so you can’t walk about freely. However, the cap can be disconnected for short periods if necessary, for example if you need to use the toilet.
Things to consider
Both types of scalp cooling need to be worn for up to 30–40 minutes before your chemotherapy drugs are given and for some time afterwards. You may have the cap on for a few hours in total. You may feel cold during the treatment. The chemotherapy staff will do all they can to make you as comfortable as possible, but some people find the discomfort too much.
Scalp cooling is only effective when used with certain chemotherapy drugs and it’s not always possible to know how effective the treatment will be until you try it. Scalp cooling is not advised when treating some types of cancer.
Some hospitals don’t have facilities for scalp cooling. Your doctor or chemotherapy nurse can tell you if it’s available and if it’s suitable for you.