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How Scalp Cooling and Cold Cap Therapy Works and Why Cancer Patients Are Using It

4 min read

Although it's an aggressive course of treatment with many potential side effects, chemotherapy is still a life-saving option for most cancer patients. However, up to 14 percent of women opt out of this treatment due to concerns about hair loss.1

Enter scalp cooling, invented in Europe in 1998 before coming to the US a few years later.Let's take a closer look at this therapeutic intervention that may offer value to your patients undergoing chemotherapy.

What is cold cap therapy?

For cancer patients undergoing chemo, cold caps temporarily constrict blood flow to hair follicles, which limits the amount of chemotherapy drugs that reach a patient's scalp and hair – as well as metabolic activity in the follicles, making them less sensitive to chemo's harsh side effects.3

What types of cold cap therapy are available?

It's important to know there are two different methods when it comes to helping prevent chemotherapy-induced alopecia (CIA): cold caps and scalp cooling systems.4

Advanced scalp cooling systems

The more advanced scalp cooling systems, some of which have received FDA clearance, are not typically available for patients to purchase on their own. Also, scalp cooling systems (newer models include a computer-controlled component) are more costly and not always covered by insurance.5

Two-part device scalp cooling

Excluding the basic single “caps" that can be purchased on mass retail sites, scalp cooling therapy is a two-part device designed to prevent hair loss associated with chemotherapy by providing a steady cooling flow to the patient's scalp during their chemo infusions.

The coolant wrap covers the head and scalp area, which is then covered by a compression cap. Compression provides equal pressure to the entire scalp and regulates the temperature. A strap that goes under the patient's chin and buckles to the other side so the cap stays securely in place during a chemotherapy infusion.

Does this type of therapy work for chemo?

To answer this question, it's important to understand some background about the device itself and how it functions.

In terms of design, a cold cap is essentially an ice pack that fits tightly over the head to cool the scalp. A cold cap may be used on its own to treat conditions like migraine headaches that may or may not be tied to cancer or chemotherapy. Just as you'd use an ice pack for comfort after an injury or procedure, or to minimize swelling, a cold cap may provide relief for pain or discomfort in the scalp area.

Does this therapy work for everyone?

There's no guarantee a patient won't lose some hair while scalp cooling or cold capping; the outcomes vary from person to person based on what type of chemo regimen has been recommended and other unknown factors. This type of therapy only prevents hair loss on the scalp and does not prevent loss elsewhere, such as a patient's eyelashes, eyebrows and other body hair.3

Why is scalp cooling or cold cap therapy beneficial?

If a patient's best course of treatment includes a chemotherapy regimen that could induce hair loss, and there's hesitation on account of this upsetting side effect, this type of therapy may be a helpful compromise.

While a patient's world is turned upside down by a cancer diagnosis, maintaining a sense of normalcy and control is important. Being able to keep the same “look," rather than transitioning to the “look" of a cancer patient who is unwell, is of great value to many patients, particularly if the person undergoing chemo has young children, for example.2

There's an aspect of privacy too: not all individuals treated for cancer wish to disclose their diagnosis to the general public, acquaintances, or even in the workplace. Patients who have careers where they interact with others may struggle more directly with the impact of hair loss as there can be a strong sense of identity associated with one's hair.6

Is this therapy right for my patients?

Each person with a cancer diagnosis is unique, so scalp cooling or cold cap therapy is not a one-size-fits-all solution. In addition, not all types of chemotherapy drugs have hair loss or alopecia as a potential side effect.1

If chemotherapy has been recommended as the best course of treatment for your patient – and it's a type of chemotherapy drug that induces hair loss – scalp cooling or cold cap therapy may offer the assurance needed to proceed with treatment. Be sure to discuss costs, insurance coverage and the potential side effects of cold cap therapy, such as headaches, chills, scalp irritation, or discomfort in the neck and shoulders.7

Where can I buy scalp cooling or cold cap therapy products for chemo?

Perhaps you've had patients ask about this intervention, or maybe they've specifically asked: where can I buy a cold cap for chemo? While cold caps are available on mass retailers like Amazon, the selections are limited, and product design and quality may not be up to a medical grade standard, which could affect outcomes. According to the American Cancer Society, cold caps that do not fit tightly or properly may be linked to more hair loss.5

How we help you provide scalp cooling therapy

As part of our ongoing commitment to streamlined sourcing and reliable distribution that combines personal service with the latest technology, our expanded oncology offerings now include scalp cooling therapy through Cooler Heads.

Cooler Heads therapy is FDA-approved. As the sole distributor of Cooler Heads products, McKesson has dedicated sales reps who can offer guidance on procurement and other assistance as needed, such as understanding reimbursement – which may drive revenues for your practice and make it a lower-cost option for your patients than your competitors.

Training for setup and individualized fittings to patients is also included, and the system is portable so that it can be used throughout the clinic (no chair turnover necessary).