Thursday, March 12, 2015

Save My Hair: Cold cap therapy

As a woman I understand just how important our hair can be for our overall appearance and feeling of femininity. Personally, I could not imagine the feeling one would get if it were all gone, not by choice. Sadly, many cancer patients have this feature stolen from them due to chemotherapy everyday. As if having one of our most deadly diseases wasn’t enough to deal with, one also could have their sense of self and beauty disturbed as well. Although all may not feel this way about their identification with their hair, many other women do. And for this population researchers have possibly come up with a solution.

Cold Cap Therapy (CCT or “scalp cooling”), this new phenomenon is still in its trial period and is not yet approved by the US FDA but many hospitals are actually offering this treatment as a trial. Based upon an article I read published by Dr.Brian Lawenda the Clinical Director of Radiation Oncology at 21st Century Oncology in Las Vegas, NV, he describes just exactly how this new therapy works. Lawenda states that it “involves the use of special caps, frozen to a very cold temperature, and worn for a period of time before, during and after each intravenous chemotherapy session. Studies have shown that scalp cooling reduces the blood flow to the scalp and the metabolism of chemotherapy in the hair follicles. This results in less hair loss from chemotherapy.” Although there are concerns that reducing such blood flow could lead to the growth of cancer cells into tumors especially with cases blood cancer, however research has promoted that this risk is very low, and thus shouldn’t cause for much alarm. Additionally with the rate of effectiveness being around 75% based on research from the article, this positive feedback could lead to more confidence in this therapy.

After doing additional research I came across the “Rapunzel Project.” Two breast cancer survivors, Shirley and Nancy, whom had personal experience with this sort of situation, founded this project. Although the idea of a “cold cap” sounds extremely appealing for many patients undergoing chemo, the suitable freezers needed to sustain the temperatures for this “cold cap” are most definitely an obstacle, since the cap needs to be used at -22 degrees Fahrenheit to be effective and normal freezers are not capable of sustaining this temperature. Shirley began to fundraise within her group of friends and “Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis was exceptionally receptive to the project and offered to let the donations go to its Foundation, which then purchased the freezer for the hospital.” Although this method of cold caps can be also used under a dry ice cooling method instead of a freezer, it is just a harder alternative. The “Rapunzel Project” is bringing light to the possibility of saving your hair during chemotherapy. Offering information on the “cold caps” and the different options such as “Penguin Cold Caps” which are the common cap rented by Americans, and “Chemo Cold Caps” which is a new option but showing great promise based on new data and research. It additionally has information about the freezers and locations of freezers. Finally it also offers tips for cap users and information about clinical trials on these caps. I feel the “Rapunzel Project” is helping to give hope to people who don’t want to essentially lose everything during their battle with cancer and additionally it is helping people to realize they aren’t alone.

Finally a last story on this topic was brought to light in July of 2014. Shelley Cain underwent the “cold cap” treatment during her chemotherapy. She explained how the process was not a painless one as she described, “I screamed for the cancer nurse to remove the cap when she first put it on as it was unbearably cold and painful.” However she endured this process because “I didn’t want to scare my children by looking ill and losing my hair. I wanted them to recognize their mummy and not be frightened by my appearance.” Additionally by going through this process and not losing her hair it allowed her “to keep her spirits up” and took away the illusion of being ill securing her sense of self.

Overall I feel that this new frontier, which could help secure your hair and essentially keep your hopes up during such a hard battle, is most definitely worth talking about and further developing the processes needed to make this therapy easily accessible to the masses.


Lawenda, Brian D. "Keep Your Hair With Scalp Cooling ("Cold Cap Therapy") During Chemotherapy - Integrative Oncology Essentials." Integrative Oncology Essentials. N.p., 13 Feb. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.<>.

Parry, Lizzie. "Breast Cancer Victim Freezes Her Head to MINUS 4°C during Chemotherapy to save Her Hair for the Sake of Two Children." Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 08 July 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.<>.

"What Is Cold Cap Therapy?" The Rapunzel Project™ Cold Caps. N.p., 2010. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.<>.

Image Citation:

Hausen Bozeman Chronicle, Jodi. "'Cold Cap' Designed to Help Chemo Patients Retain Hair." The Billings Gazette. N.p., 30 Oct. 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.<>.


  1. It's great that the medical community is paying attention to one of the quality of life issues cancer patients face. What can they do for losing all your eyelashes and eyebrows? I found that experience to be the most difficult.

  2. Although worrying about losing superficial things such as hair as a result of chemotherapy seems ridiculous, I recently had a change of heart. My friend recently found out her father has cancer (treatable as they found it very early) and he will be undergoing chemotherapy. Unfortunately she won't be home to see him during his 7-week journey. The next time she will see him is during graduation and she told me how upsetting it will be to see her dad without hair (even though he is fairly bald already). She explained to me that her dad is bald with a few stray hairs here and there, but his new baldness would have a new meaning. It would be a physical indication of his struggle and that was hard for her. If this research can save the few stray hairs on her dad's head, I consider it a success. Go science!

  3. It is great that scientists are looking to improve cancer patient's lives in light of the otherwise horrible effects of the disease. Although decreasing hair loss theoretically seems like it would work, I wonder what the long term negative effects are, considering the FDA has not approved it yet. The portion of the unbearable pain due to the cap's level of cold seems impossible that there could be no negative side effects. Maybe a cost benefit analysis can be done once the cold cap goes into further screening to see if keeping your hair is worth it.

  4. I do hope that scientists work to improve the "cold cap" method for cancer patients. Not only does the therapy seem inexpensive and easy, it also plays a role in improving the mental health of many patients. Individuals suffering from cancer are already in a vulnerable state, and the ability for them to retain certain features of their healthy self may be beneficial in limiting side effects and possibly achieving a faster recovery time.

  5. I agree with both sides - the ability keep your hair during chemotherapy is a bigger reward than most people like to acknowledge, yet the fact that the treatment has not been approved by the FDA is discouraging. Moreover, you stated "research has promoted that [the] risk [of blood cancer] is very low," yet I would still be highly concerned if I was the FDA because there is still a small chance of blood cancer. I wonder if any retrospective studies have been conducted to more fully determine the side-effects of this novel therapy?

  6. I definitely think that it is important to keep patients' hopes high during the battle against cancer and that cold caps could provide so much hope. I agree with Erin though in that if there is ANY possibility that it might make the cancer worse, I would not take the chance. There definitely should be more research conducted before it is administered as a real treatment.

  7. Personally, the pain of wearing a freezing cap plus the added chances of the cancer not actually getting proper treatment, all to save my hair, would be a major deterrent for the cold cap. And I value my hair a lot! I value my life more though. I'm guessing that patients who are getting chemotherapy for brain cancer cannot use this cap?