Many cancer patients fear the prospect of losing their hair during chemotherapy. Today, an innovative technique called scalp cooling can help prevent or minimize hair loss, allowing patients to feel more like themselves as they undergo treatment for cancer. There are currently two companies that provide scalp cooling technology. Here at Siteman, we use machines from Paxman USA, which has enabled over 100,000 cancer patients worldwide to keep some or all of their hair. Siteman Cancer Center at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Barnes-Jewish Hospital is currently the only facility in the St. Louis area to offer scalp cooling.
The treatment is available at the Center for Advanced Medicine on Siteman’s main campus, as well as the west county, south county, St. Charles County and Illinois satellite locations. We plan to expand scalp cooling to our north county location soon.
How does scalp cooling work?
To undergo scalp cooling, patients wear a special cap during chemotherapy that chills the scalp. The cold temperature slows blood flow to the hair follicles, limiting the amount of chemotherapy that can reach them. Ideally, this will keep the hair from falling out.
It is necessary to wear the cap before, during, and after receiving chemotherapy. The cap is lightweight, and you can get up and move around if you need to. You must continue the scalp cooling procedure throughout all of your chemotherapy treatments for it to be effective.
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Are there any side effects?
While scalp cooling is safe for the body, some patients find the intense cold to be uncomfortable and even painful. This sensation only tends to last 10 to 15 minutes and is worse during the initial treatments – patients can grow accustomed to the cold over time. Patients may also notice chills, nausea, and dizziness while undergoing scalp cooling. Patients with migraine headaches or extreme cold sensitivity should not do scalp cooling.
Am I a good candidate for scalp cooling?
Not every patient needs scalp cooling. Certain cancer drugs – especially those used to treat breast cancer – are more likely to cause hair loss than others. If your chemo regimen doesn’t include one of these drugs, you can probably expect to keep your hair. Talk to your physicians or care team about your risk of hair loss, and whether scalp cooling could be useful to you.
Scalp cooling is not advised for patients with certain cancers, such as blood cancers (leukemia and lymphoma) and head and neck cancers. If there is a risk that a tumor might metastasize to the scalp, scalp cooling will not be recommended.
In addition, scalp cooling doesn’t work for every patient. If you find that the treatments aren’t helping you, they can be stopped immediately.
Will my insurance cover scalp cooling?
At this time, scalp cooling treatment is not covered by most insurance companies. However, every patient is encouraged to check with their insurance company. Patients can expect a maximum out-of-pocket cost of $2,200.
If you wish to undergo scalp cooling but are concerned about the cost, there are resources available to assist you.