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Is Preventing Chemotherapy Hair Loss Possible?

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Updated September 16, 2013

Question: Is Preventing Chemotherapy Hair Loss Possible?
Answer:

Maybe.

A few methods have been tried for preventing hair loss on chemotherapy, although success has been mixed. Some people have found these helpful, but others have found them ineffective, or only partially effective –- preferring the option of wigs or scarves to thin hair. Methods that have been tried include:

Scalp Cooling/Ice Caps

With scalp cooling, ice packs or an ice cap are applied to the scalp while chemotherapy is being given. The theory behind this is to contract blood vessels near the hair follicles, so that the chemotherapy drugs do not reach these rapidly dividing cells. Some studies have found this to be effective in reducing hair loss, but it seems to be most effective with certain chemotherapy drugs, and if previous chemotherapy has not been given. Scalp cooling raises a concern for some oncologists (especially in the treatment of blood related cancers like leukemia) that scalp cooling might prevent the drugs from reaching all cancer cells, and that spread of cancer to the scalp may be more likely. Since the procedure requires applying ice to the scalp with each chemotherapy session, it can be uncomfortable for some people.

Minoxidil (Rogaine)

Some people interested in preventing chemotherapy hair loss have used this medication marketed to help with male pattern baldness. While it probably does little to help with hair loss during chemotherapy, the thought is that it may help hair grow back faster after chemotherapy. As with any medication, the side effects can be significant, and minoxidil should only be used under the thoughtful guidance of a physician.

Sources:

Grevelman, E. and W. Breed. Prevention of chemotherapy-induced hair loss by scalp cooling. Annals of Oncology. 2005. 16(3):352-358.

Mols, F. et al. Scalp cooling to prevent chemotherapy-induced hair loss: practical and clinical considerations. Supportive Care in Cancer. 2008. 16(3):352-358.

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