Loyola Medicine offers scalp cooling treatment to reduce risk of chemotherapy hair loss

Loyola Medicine is offering cancer patients a treatment that reduces the risk of hair loss by cooling the scalp.

During chemotherapy sessions, the patient wears a silicone cooling cap. The cap contains a circulating coolant that reduces the temperature of the scalp by a few degrees.

Breast cancer patient Jennifer Blattner, of Elmhurst, Illinois, is the first Loyola patient to undergo scalp cooling. Ms. Blattner said the treatment has preserved about 50 percent of her thick, wavy brown hair, enough so that she does not need to wear a wig or scarf.

"The preservation of as much hair as you can is good for your self-esteem," she said. "This is an amazing technology."

Ms. Blattner said the first few minutes of scalp cooling are uncomfortable, "but you get used to it."

Loyola is offering scalp cooling because studies have found that for many patients, hair loss is one of the most distressing side effects of chemotherapy, said Ms. Blattner's oncologist, Shelly Lo, MD.

Chemotherapy targets rapidly growing cells, including cancer cells and hair follicles. Many chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss beginning around two weeks after the first round of chemotherapy. Scalp cooling reduces this risk by constricting blood vessels and blood flow to hair follicles, reducing the delivery of chemotherapy drugs to the scalp, along with the metabolic rate. The cooling method used by Loyola, Paxman Scalp Cooling System, recently was cleared by the Food and Drug Administration for patients with breast and other solid tumors.

A multicenter study of the system, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that among 101 breast cancer patients who underwent scalp cooling, 66.3 percent experienced hair loss of 50 percent or less. Among a comparison group of 16 chemotherapy patients who did not receive scalp cooling, none experienced such hair preservation. In the cooling group, 3.8 percent of patients experienced mild headaches and 2.8 percent discontinued the treatment due to feeling cold.

"The findings of this study were impressive, so we feel it is important to offer scalp cooling as an option for our patients," Dr. Lo said.

Dr. Lo said scalp cooling does not work with some chemotherapy drugs, and results vary according to the patient's age, hair, cancer and other factors. The cost, about $2,000, is not covered by insurance.

Loyola offers scalp cooling at the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, located on Loyola Medicine's main campus in Maywood. The center includes clinic areas, chemotherapy services, research laboratories and the spa-like Coleman Foundation Image Renewal Center, which provides services such as hair care, breast prosthesis fittings and massage therapy.

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