Preventing Chemotherapy Hair Loss - Issues and Methods

Methods for Prevention of Hair Loss From Chemotherapy

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Can hair loss from chemotherapy be prevented?. istockphoto.com

Is Preventing Chemotherapy Hair Loss Possible?

A few methods have been tried for preventing hair loss (alopecia) 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. There are also other issues of concern to oncologists. See the bottom line below for conclusions based on current research.

Issues in Hair Loss Prevention During Chemotherapy

Any time a treatment is used to counteract the side effects of another treatment, there are issues to be considered. With regard to preventing chemotherapy hair loss, here are a few:

  • Spread of Cancer - Some oncologists are concerned (especially when treating blood-related cancers like leukemia) that scalp cooling may prevent chemotherapy drugs from reaching all cancer cells, and that spread of cancer to the scalp may be more likely when this is used.
  • Discomfort - It goes without saying that sitting with an ice pack on your head during each chemotherapy session could be uncomfortable.

Methods for Preventing Chemotherapy-Induced Hair Loss

There are both mechanical and chemical methods that have been used in an attempt to stop hair loss from chemotherapy.

  • 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.  A review of studies to date found that overall, this method decreased hair loss in 62 percent of people. In addition to discomfort related to the cold such as a headache and the feeling of coldness, participants have also expressed concern over the increased time and space required to add this method to chemotherapy.

  • Scalp Compression

  • Combination Treatment with Scalp Cooling and Scalp Compression

  • Medications - Medications have also been used in an attempt to reduce the loss of hair during chemotherapy. It's important to keep in mind that as with any medication, the side effects can be significant, and these should only be used under the careful guidance of a physician.

    Medications that have been tested for their ability to reduce chemotherapy-induced alopecia include:

    • Rogaine (minoxidil) topical 2% solution - This medication is perhaps best known as the medication marketed topically to prevent male pattern baldness. While it probably does little to prevent actual hair loss during chemotherapy, it's thought that it may help hair grow back faster after chemotherapy is finished.
    • Panicum miliacum topical

    Bottom Line

    The bottom line in preventing chemotherapy hair loss is that trying to do so is not without potential problems, and should not be considered without a careful and thoughtful discussion with your oncologist. When tried, it's felt that a combination of chemical (medication) and chemical treatments may be most effective, both in hair loss prevention, and to minimize potential dangers posed by either of the methods.

    Further Reading:

      Sources:

      Dmytriw, A., Morzycki, W., and P. Green. Prevention of Alopecia in Medical and Interventional Chemotherapy Patients. Journal of Cutaneous and Medical Surgery. 2014. 18(0):1.6.

      Lemieux, J., Prevencher, L., and C. Laflamme. Survey about the use of scalp cooling to prevent scalp cooling to prevent alopecia during breast cancer chemotherapy treatment in Canada. Canadian Oncology Nursing Journal. 2014. 24(2):102-8.

      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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