If you’re suffering from cancer and are undergoing chemotherapy, one of the most common side effects is that you may experience hair loss as a result of the treatment. This is a well-known consequence, and one that many cancer patients dread. The visible loss of hair is a clear outward symbol of your struggle, and can affect confidence and self-esteem. In a small number of cases, some women even feel that the prospect of chemotherapy-related hair loss is too damaging, and will not undergo chemotherapy because of the expected side effects.

Scientists have been working to try and find a way to counteract the hair loss implications of chemotherapy, and they are starting to make inroads into effective treatments. One of the latest such treatments is a soft silicone cap that patients wear, that emits a cooling substance directly to the hair follicles.

So how does cold cap treatment for chemotherapy-related hair loss work?

There is a device called the “DigniCap” which infuses a substance called monopropolyne glycol from within the cap onto the scalp. The result is that this cools down the hair follicles, reduces the blood flow and thereby reduces the cellular functions. The follicles are essentially ‘suspended’ and the rate of decline that would usually be expected as a result of the chemotherapy is reduced.

Patients are advised to wear the cap before, during and after each chemotherapy session and scientists say results so far have been promising. Early tests show that this has been proven to stop as many hairs falling from the follicles. DigniCap’s creators suggest that although this is not a 100% fix to the issue of hair loss during chemotherapy, it is a significant step in the right direction.

This invention has been recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and although it is currently only approved for breast cancer patients, testing is continuing to understand how effective this treatment is for other types of cancer patients. There are just a few types of cancer where this is definitely not suitable, and these include lymphoma and leukaemia.

Are there any risks associated with cold cap treatments?

Some scientists have voiced concerns that in cooling down the scalp, there is a risk that some of the cancer cells may also survive the chemotherapy treatment. At the moment, this is speculative risk, there haven’t been proven cases of cancer surviving due to the use of cold caps and follicle cooling treatments, but this is being thoroughly monitored and evaluated as cold cap testing continues.