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Cold Caps Tested to Prevent Chemo Hair Loss

Update Date: Jul 22, 2013 10:06 AM EDT

Although hair might be the least of everyone's worries when they are first diagnosed with cancer, it is still one of the most undesirable side effects of chemotherapy. Losing one's hair during the journey to recovery might not be physically painful, but the process could take a mental toll on the patient. With the hopes of providing relief in one area of a cancer patient's life, researchers had developed a cold cap meant to help prevent hair loss that results from chemotherapy.

"I didn't necessarily want to walk around the grocery store answering questions about my cancer," Miriam Lipton, 45, remembered the first time she suffered from breast cancer according to FOX News. "If you look Ok on the outside, it can help you feel, 'Ok, this is manageable, I can get through this."

Lipton is one of the first cold cap success stories. When Lipton was first diagnosed with breast cancer, she lost her hair within two weeks of starting chemotherapy. The second time breast cancer struck, Lipton was able to try the cold cap, which saved her hair and made her recovery process easier. The cold cap works by strapping it onto one's head where the near-freezing temperatures of the cap work to reduce blood flow in the scalp. The cold temperatures are supposed to then prevent the cancer-fighting drugs from disrupting the hair follicles and making hair fall out.

Even though this device sounds completely new, it has already been in use in some countries throughout the world. In the United States, however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to give it the green light. Even though the cold cap saves people's hair, some researchers are worried that the cold cap could prevent chemotherapy from wiping out cancer cells near the scalp, which would render the drugs ineffective.

"Do they work and are they safe? Those are the two big holes. We just don't know," Kimberly Stump-Sutliff, the American Cancer Society Spokeswoman and an oncology nurse, said.  

Despite the debate over the cold caps' effectiveness, several health experts have stated that hair loss is often overlooked. Patients care a lot about their hair and not for vain purposes. Hair loss is one of the indicators of cancer and often, cancer patients would prefer to keep their health issues private.

"We need to make this experience [chemotherapy] as tolerable as possible, so there's the least baggage at the end," Dr. Hope Rugo from the University of California, San Francisco said. Rugo stated that she has had patients delay cancer treatment in order to avoid losing their hair.

Rugo and Dr. Susan Melin of North Carolina's Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center will start enlisting 110 early stage breast cancer patients into the DigniCap brand of scalp cooling trial. Along with colleagues from other hospital, they hope to find positive results, which could potentially lead to FDA approval. 

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