Even though it has been used successfully in Europe and other countries for decades, scalp cooling to reduce chemotherapy-induced hair loss is a relatively new option – especially in the United States. Manual cold caps have been in very limited use in the US for the past ten years, however, it wasn’t until December 8, 2015 that a scalp cooling device was actually granted Clearance from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Cooling the scalp during chemotherapy is thought to prevent hair loss by affecting two cellular processes: (1) Blood flow to hair follicle cells is reduced, therefore exposing them to less chemotherapy medications, and (2) the rate of cellular metabolism is slowed, thereby reducing the effect of whatever chemo medication is present.
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There are two basic approaches to scalp cooling: Manual Cooling Systems and Automated Cooling Systems. Suppliers of Manual Systems in the US include Arctic Cold Caps, Chemo Cold Caps, Penguin Cold Caps and Polar Cold Caps. Manual caps must be swapped out periodically throughout treatment and require a source of refrigeration to keep replacement caps cold during the infusion process – usually dry ice in a cooler, though some infusion centers make dedicated freezers available to patients. The Rapunzel Project has been instrumental in installing freezers for manual caps in many infusion centers across the country. Automated Systems, like Dignitana’s Dignicap System, include self-contained refrigeration units that continuously cool the cap during treatment, eliminating the need for multiple cap changes and for access to freezers or dry ice. The Rapunzel Project website includes detailed information on both manual and automated approaches.