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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

Daily Dose

Can a cap prevent hair loss from chemotherapy?

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.

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“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.

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