What Is a Chemotherapy Scalp Cooling Cap?
For a period of time before, during, and after your chemotherapy (chemo) treatment, cooling of the scalp with ice packs or cooling caps (cold caps) is used to reduce and prevent hair loss.
Though there are many brands, Digni cap is a very successful brand for chemo patients with breast and ovarian cancers. They are based out of Dallas, Texas, and have been in business since 1996. Digni comes from the latin word, Dignitas, meaning dignity.
(We mention it not as an endorsement or recommendation, but you may have heard it referred to as a Digni Cap by other patients).
The idea of cooling the scalp to prevent hair loss has been around for many years, especially in Canada and Europe. The blood vessels in the scalp constrict when cooled, reducing blood flow to the hair follicles. Resulting in less chemotherapy medication getting into the hair follicle cells. The cold also makes those cells less active, so chemotherapy drugs don’t target them as quickly.
In the past, the scalp was cooled during chemotherapy with cold packs alone or with caps that were kept in dry ice that had to be changed frequently to keep the temperature low. Finally, in 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new type of cold cap to reduce hair loss in people undergoing chemotherapy.
The new caps are connected to a computer that maintains the temperature of cold liquid at 32 degrees Fahrenheit circulating through the cap, such as a Digni Cap.
It’s important that these caps stay in place. Fortunately, these caps have a covering that keeps them in place which also helps to keep the temperature constant.
Are Chemotherapy Scalp Cooling Caps Effective, Like Digni Cap?
Studies of newer, computer-controlled cooling cap systems have shown benefits. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 66% of women with breast cancer who utilized scalp cooling during chemo treatments saw 50% less hair loss than patients who didn’t utilize scalp cooling. However, controlled studies of older forms of scalp cooling (scalp hypothermia) such as using ice packs have shown conflicting results. Common side effects of cooling caps have been headaches, neck and shoulder discomfort, chills, and scalp pain.
The type of chemo drugs used, the chemo dosage, and how well the person tolerates the coldness affects the success of scalp hypothermia.
Some research has also suggested that people with a thicker amount of hair might be more likely to lose hair than those with a thinner amount of hair. This may be because the scalp doesn’t cool down enough due to the insulating effect of the hair.
It’s important to have properly fitting cooling caps, because those that are not fitted tightly have also been linked with more hair loss; often in patches where contact with the scalp is poor.
How Long Does Chemotherapy Scalp Cooling Take During Treatment?
Scalp cooling will add time before and after each of your chemotherapy treatments. The type of cooling cap and chemotherapy you’re using determines how long you need to cool before and after your treatment. It can range from 20 minutes to 2 hours. If you’re using frozen caps, you can go back home with your cold cap on, to finish your cooling. Your healthcare team can answer your questions about how long cooling will take after treatments.
Once you finish each chemotherapy treatment, you may be asked to finish your cooling in a separate area outside the chemotherapy infusion unit so that other patients can get treatment during the day.
Caring for Your Hair and Scalp With and Beyond Digni Cap
Here are suggestions on how to care for your hair and scalp while you’re getting treatment.
1. Wash and condition your hair every 2 to 4 days with a gentle, natural, nourishing shampoo and conditioner. The best shampoo is IlLustrious Shampoo & Cleanser and the best conditioner is RoMANce Deep Conditioning Treatment.
2. Always rinse your hair well and pat it dry with a soft towel.
3. Brush or comb your hair gently with a soft-bristle brush or comb. Start brushing or combing your hair at the ends and gently work your way up to your scalp. You can also finger-comb your hair by wetting your fingers with water.
4. If your hair is long, you may want to have it cut short before you begin treatment to help ensure that your scalp is receiving the maximum amount of cooling.
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