Several news reports this week have highlighted the supposed benefits of placing a cold cap on the scalp to prevent hair loss from chemotherapy. While these reports have emphasized the experimental nature of the device — it hasn’t yet been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration — some women have been using them on their own.
A handful of breast cancer patients at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have rented these caps from a British company for about $450 a month — they’re not covered by insurance — packing them on dry ice to bring to their chemo sessions. The caps need to be replaced every half-hour or so when one loses its chill to keep the scalp cold and, in theory at least, prevent chemotherapy agents from getting to hair follicles and destroying them.
“We occasionally have patients who use them,” said Dr. Erica Mayer, a medical oncologist at Dana-Farber’s breast oncology center. “But they must supply a freezer and are responsible for changing the caps.” Nurses aren’t allowed to assist.
Do the caps work? Researchers outside Boston are conducting a small study involving 110 patients with early-stage breast cancer to get a better sense of the device’s effectiveness and to ascertain whether the cap increases the risk of cancer recurrence in the scalp.