What is scalp cooling?
The scalp cooling treatment itself is relatively simple - a cap, which comes in two sections (an inner cap and an outer cover), is worn for a little while before, during, and for some time after their chemo infusion. The treatment is administered by a trained medical professional and the cap is attached to a system, which circulates coolant liquid around the inner cap, reducing the temperature of the patient’s scalp.
Reducing the temperature of the scalp helps to protect the hair follicles and limits the damage caused by the chemotherapy drugs.
How does scalp cooling work?
Scalp cooling works by limiting the damage to your hair follicles caused by chemotherapy drugs administered during cancer treatment.
Chemotherapy attacks fast dividing cells in the body. Cancerous tumors are made up of fast dividing cells, but so are hair follicles, nails, the lining of the mouth and other areas of the body. Chemotherapy can’t tell the difference between the healthy cells in hair follicles and the unhealthy ones in a tumor. The damage inflicted by these drugs causes hair to fall out around 14 to 21 days after the first treatment.
The cold causes the blood vessels in the patient’s scalp to get smaller. This means less blood flow to the scalp and therefore less chemotherapy drug reaches the hair follicles
Reduced drug uptake into the cells
The chemotherapy drugs need to get into the cell to do the damage, but the cold makes it more difficult for the drugs to enter the cells
Reduced cell division
The cold causes the fast division of the hair follicle cells to slow right down, meaning the chemotherapy doesn’t target these cells, reducing damage
Reduced cell metabolic activity
This is a bit complicated, but put simply, when the cells are cold, all sorts of processes slow down which makes it harder for the chemotherapy to kill the cells in the hair follicle
The scalp cooling system and cap
The scalp cooling system is the size of a small refrigerator and is located in the infusion suite of the hospital or cancer center you will be treated at. The patient doesn’t operate the system, including attaching the cap to the system – this will be done by one of your clinical team.
Paxman Scalp Cooling System (PSCS)
The cap is made up of two parts.
The inner cap is blue and made of soft silicone, so it can shape to your head. This is the part of the cap that will be in direct contact with your scalp. The cap is made up of a series of channels which fill with coolant when connected to the system, allowing the cooling process to happen.
The second part of the cap is an outer cover, which is grey and made of neoprene. The chin strap and bungee cords across the top of the cap help to ensure that the inner cap is in close and consistent contact with your head.
It is really important, if you do choose to scalp cool, that you are familiar with the cap and cover and how to put them on correctly. You can ask for assistance in putting on the cap from a friend or family member that is supporting you, but most patients will have their cap put on by one of their clinical team. It is important to know how to put the cap on properly, as this will allow you to feedback to whoever is helping you put on your cap and ensure a great fit and the best possible results.
Watch How-to videos on putting on the cap
If you go ahead with scalp cooling, you will be provided with a Cap Kit. This will contain the following:
- Your own personal cap (both the inner cap and cap cover)
- Hair preparation kit
- Education materials
- Pay-for-use token (self-pay version)
You must bring your Cap Kit with you to all your chemo treatments. It contains everything you will need to scalp cool.