Psychosocial Effects of Chemo Induced Hair LossA woman’s hair is her crown and glory. I cannot imagine the trauma that impacts a woman’s life when she is not only diagnosed with cancer but also facing the reality of hair loss. It’s considered almost inevitable. Chemotherapy not only ravishes your body but your hair as well. It is a combination of drugs that work to kill cells that grow quickly. The issue is that chemo does not discriminate between the types of cells that it dies. The drug travels throughout the body without discernment; meaning that normal cells not affected by cancer like hair follicles and blood are also chemo targets. That is, until now. A not so recent breakthrough in cooling technology is enabling women to keep their hair while undergoing treatment for breast cancer. And it’s epic. In 2014 a survey was taken to measure the effects of hair loss on the psyche of women cancer patients. 47% of the women surveyed reported that the alopecia brought on by the chemo is the worst side effect of the treatment. And 8% of women said that they would forego the life-saving treatment to save their hair.
Cold Caps & Cooling SystemsHow do you combat such intense feelings and convince women to get the treatment that will save their lives? Scalp Cooling. Scalp cooling is a practice that involves a chemo patient wearing a cap to reduce the scalp’s temperature. These scalp cooling caps snug fitting caps that resemble a helmet. There are two ways that patients are receiving the cooling treatment. One type of scalp cooling referred to as a cold cap has a gel coolant filling that’s chilled to between -15 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. To receive these caps, you would contact a private company offering the specialized gel caps for rent in sets of 4 to 8. The patient wears the cap 20 to 50 minutes before, during, and after each chemo treatment all the while cooling it between wears with dry ice or a BioMed freezer. The second way involves a cap that is attached to a freezing machine and called a cooling system. The cooling system the better option of the two because it offers a steady cooling temperature throughout wearing it. The device itself circulates coolant to the cap which provides a stable cooling effect throughout the cap. Prior to using it, you are required to go through a fitting to secure the cap itself onto your head. Both the fitted cap and the cooling consistency of a cooling system allows you to avoid constantly changing the cap. Both scalp cooling methods use the cold temperatures to shrink the blood vessels and minimize the amount of chemo able to reach the hair follicle. This is why it is essential that the cap is fit snug to your head without any air pockets. Any pockets or bubbles in the fit may cause bald spots or missing patches of hair.
Caring For Your Hair During Chemo & Cold Cap UseBecause your hair is going through so much during chemo, when using the cold cap you are advised to treat your hair with more TLC than usual. Heat tools used for blow drying, hot rollers, or straightening irons are discouraged. It is also advised to shampoo your hair less as to avoid constant manipulation. For those of us who wash our hair every day, try to alter your schedule to only every third day. If you wash your hair bi-weekly, you are safe to stay on that schedule. Nevertheless, be sure to wash your hair with cool water and a gentle shampoo. Also, detangle your hair gently and follow gentle combing and brushing practices between washes. There is absolutely no coloring allowed until three months after chemotherapy is over. During the time of your treatment and cooling scalp cap use, you can potentially save about 60% of your hair. This is a lot better than the alternative. The hair that eventually grows into the areas of your scalp that thinned during treatment will typically be darker and of a wire-like texture. The medical industry affectionately calls these strands “chemo-curls.” It will take you about 6 to 9 months to see the new growth because the hair buried in the hair follicle takes a while to grow out. But when it does there is a significant chance that it will look different than your original hair texture.
Types of ChemoDoctors use two types of drugs to combat breast cancer after exploring the surgical option. The drugs are:
- Taxane drugs
- Anthracycline drugs