Hair loss is one of the most challenging side effects of chemotherapy for many patients. Some are opting for the use of cold caps or scalp cooling systems to reduce hair loss. These systems work by narrowing the blood vessels beneath the scalp, reducing the amount of chemotherapy medicine that reaches the hair follicles.
“Cold caps worked brilliantly for me, and I am definitely satisfied and happy that I used them,” said Jayne Hawe, who battled breast cancer with aggressive chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation in 2016. “I felt lousy, but not losing my hair was a positive for me. You wouldn’t know I was in treatment. I wasn’t devastated by hair loss like my sister, Diane Redington, who founded The GCS Project.”
When Diane Redington experienced her first round of chemotherapy and began her battle with gynecological carcinosarcoma, she was distressed by the loss of her hair. She was bothered by how she now looked like a cancer patient because of her hair loss when she actually felt fine. Diane was determined that her sister would not suffer the same loss.
The quest became a family affair as their sister, Jennifer Redington, learned of a cold cap study underway at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF). The sisters visited Jayne’s all-female oncology team who was involved in the cutting-edge study at UCSF. Jayne was elated when her team determined that she was a candidate to participate. Not all cancer patients are considered candidates for cold caps.
“This UCSF team is on the cutting edge with breast cancer research,” Jayne said. “These women understand how important it is for women to keep their hair during chemotherapy treatment and worked hard to research the effects of using cold caps.”
The Cold Caps Process
Not all cancer patients are considered candidates for cold caps, but Jayne enthusiastically embraced the process and tolerated it well. Although she did lose some hair and her hair thinned a bit, she believes it was worth the commitment of time involved. She felt fortunate that she did not need to invest in a wig or endure the discomfort of a wig.
“My sister Diane took charge, ordered the cold caps for me, and had them delivered to the UCSF chemo unit,” Jayne said. ”The cold caps were stored in a biomedical freezer close to my chemo chair.”
Using cold caps during chemotherapy requires a strong team commitment. Although cancer centers may be supportive and encouraging, many do not have the staff to participate in the time-consuming process. In addition, a patient using cold caps requires more time in the chemo chair.
Jayne explained that the caps fold around the head and require putting some pressure on the forehead, around the ears, etc., to keep it tight. Straps also hold it securely. The first cap is the only cap that is painfully cold for about 30 minutes as it works to numb the head. The cold caps are worn continuously throughout the chemo treatment, starting one hour before and one hour after treatment.
“I had six rounds of chemotherapy every three weeks, and the entire rental cost for 14 caps was around $3,000,” Jayne noted. “My sisters helped me by changing my caps every 30 minutes for each seven-hour treatment. I feel fortunate.”
She advised bringing a warming blanket and very warm clothing for comfort.
Jayne learned a great deal about cancer treatment through her breast cancer battle and her sister’s battle with GCS. She encourages cancer warriors to do their research and travel to top specialists who treat their unique form of cancer.
“The more these medical teams see your particular cancer, the better,” Jayne said. “It matters.”
To determine if you are a candidate for cold caps or a scalp cooling system, consult your oncology team and cancer center.