4 cold capping facts to save your hair during chemo
When I cleared my third cancer three years ago, I cold capped to save my hair during chemotherapy. It was a wonderful gift. I get asked a lot of questions about cold cap therapy so I wanted to share 4 cold capping facts to save your hair during chemo. Hopefully these quick facts will help someone else facing chemo during cancer treatment.
When I learned I had to clear cancer again a few years ago, I was sad that chemotherapy was in my treatment plan. Among the many negative side effects, hair loss was one. I was bald for 15 months during bone cancer treatment and really didn’t want to lose my hair again. So I was grateful when my oncologist suggested trying cold cap therapy to save my hair. And thankfully it helped me keep most of my hair during chemo!
About cold cap therapy
Cold cap therapy is the process of cooling your scalp to essentially ‘close off’ hair follicles to the chemo drugs that kill those cells. The cooling system works by narrowing blood vessels beneath the scalp to reduce chemo reaching hair follicles. This hopefully reduces the amount of hair that falls out. The cold also decreases the activity of the hair follicles, slowing down cell division and making the follicles less affected by chemo (breast cancer.org explains it in more detail). The caps are tightly-fitted, strapped-on hats filled with a gel coolant that’s chilled to between -15 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit (yes, it’s cold! But I ironically got used to it after the first 30 minutes or so).
There are many different companies providing cold cap therapy. Manual caps are those you change at specific time intervals, your capping team manually puts on/takes off and you maintain the temperature. A cooling system is a machine that flows coolant through the cap (the cap doesn’t need to be changed during the cooling time). There are pros/cons to every option. I used Penguin Cold Caps (manual), mostly because my clinic/oncologist recommended and they got great reviews from previous cold cappers.
4 cold capping facts to save your hair during chemo
It can work.
I saved about 60% of my hair during chemo. That’s pretty amazing! It was honestly still devastating to lose that much, especially with all the work of cold capping. But I wasn’t bald and that was my overall goal. My hair texture changed (thinned and curly. It’s stayed curly and thickened over time). However, unless I shared with people that I was going through chemo, acquaintances and strangers didn’t know. They assumed I had thin hair. There is a refreshing factor to that.
There is no guarantee that hair will be saved. Even if you do it perfectly and follow every guideline. Kind of like every body reacts differently to a chemo drug, so too does your hair. I met some women who barely lost any hair, while others lost most. But one thing to note is that most people who cap, whether you lose hair or not, have hair growth very quickly post-treatment. It comes back fast! Mine even started coming back before my last treatment! Protecting hair follicles was a win for me.
I hear much too often about doctors and other health care providers who instantly reject that cold capping works and discourage patients from trying it. While it’s true that cold capping doesn’t work for everyone, people should at least have the opportunity to learn about it and decide for themselves.
It’s not for every cancer type nor treatment plan.
Based on research I’ve read, cold capping works best for solid tumor types (breast cancer, ovarian cancer, etc.). Some drugs are harder for success than others too. However, I recommend talking to your doctor and directly to the cold capping company for input.
While I’m glad I cold capped during breast cancer treatment, I don’t think I would have during bone cancer had it been available. That treatment was so intense (inpatient for consecutive weeks, blood transfusions, pretty sick and over a year) that I think it would have been an added exhaustion to maintain the cold capping guidelines. But, then again, I don’t know. It wasn’t available to me then and losing my hair was so challenging that maybe my 21-year-old self would have wanted to try!
There are lots of resources and support.
Cold capping is done by manual caps or cooling systems. Each company has their own guidelines for using their equipment and typically customized to the individual’s treatment plan/cancer type. So take advantage of their resources. There are also several great Facebook groups of current and former cappers who offer amazing support, tips and more. I received a wealth of knowledge and support from the women in my cold capping support group. Even for non-capping questions (side effects, mental support, etc.)! The Rapunzel Project is a wonderful resource for cold capping.
It can be expensive.
Cost of capping can be a roadblock to some patients. Cost varies by providers, how many treatments needed, etc. Several cooling systems are FDA approved. This is great news because it’s led to some insurance companies to start paying for cold cap therapy. In fact, in January Medicare started reimbursements to cancer centers for the cooling systems. And usually when Medicare begins reimbursement, private companies follow! You’ll want to call your insurance company directly to ask about coverage.
My insurance unfortunately didn’t cover the cost, however, I connected with a foundation that helped offset costs. Check local and national foundations and your cancer center for assistance.
You can try to save your hair…..or don’t.
Nothing can take away from the mental and emotional impact of going through cancer. Cold capping is a lot of work during and for a short time after treatment (I share some pros/cons about cold capping in this blog).
Choosing to cold cap during cancer treatment is a personal decision. I was stunned at how many people commented and judged me on trying to save my hair! Even other cancer survivors. I also was surprised how people assumed my chemo protocol wasn’t ‘that bad’ because I wasn’t bald so didn’t ‘look like a cancer patient.’ Yikes, did society’s judgements and stereotypes appear. To be clear, there is no good chemo. Poison is poison. But putting stupid comments aside, I’m thankful for the opportunity to cold cap and save most of my hair.
Because of three cancers, I’ve been bald for months and I saved my hair. One is not better than the other. I still went through chemo because of cancer. But overall I’m thankful that I saved my hair during breast cancer. I appreciated the time that I could ‘feel normal’ and my hair grew back so quickly.
I hope these 4 cold capping facts to save your hair during chemo help you or someone you know. Again, these are personal choices. There is no right or wrong answer. I am simply grateful that cancer survivors have additional options. My goal in sharing my story and experience is to ensure others know about options.
One more important thing to read…..
My final piece of advice (and personal plea): please don’t EVER tell someone facing chemo and the loss of hair that ‘it’s just hair.’ And ‘it will grow back’ doesn’t help either (there are risks of permanent loss for some people). Losing your hair because of cancer treatment is devastating to many. It’s another reminder of the scary disease you are facing. You may think you’re being supportive with your comments but it’s not. And be supportive to those who try cold capping. Even if you were bald during your own treatment. Please be kind to those of us who tried something different to find a little peace and comfort during a dark time.
Remember: at the end of the day, fighting cancer is our common goal and supporting each other should be part of the treatment plan.
*The information shared in this blog is for informational purposes only. Do not take this as medical advice. You should do your own research and talk to your doctors and others. Your decisions are your own. Read more.