One of the most traumatizing effects of chemotherapy for cancer patients is hair loss and for several years already, cooling helmets have been of great help. These scalp cooling helmets can help slow or even prevent chemotherapy-induced alopecia. In a new study, English researchers have now been able to explain how this cooling of the scalp helps prevent hair loss.
Hair loss, or alopecia, is one of the side effects of chemotherapy. The National Cancer Institute explains that hair loss begins two to three weeks after the first session. “Some people are extremely traumatized by this hair loss,” the institute states on its website. Alopecia has a negative impact on patients’ psychological well-being. To avoid this, it is sometimes possible to wear a cooling helmet if the hospital offers it. This remedy is said to slow hair loss. In PLOS ONE, a team from Huddersfield University in England describes the effect of cold on hair follicles.
A direct effect on hair follicles
Chemotherapy treatment attacks every cell in the body that divides quickly, such as the hair. The drug destroys the healthy cells that grow hair, leading to hair loss. “Scalp cooling is the only treatment available today for chemotherapy-induced alopecia,” explains Nik Georgopoulos, the author of this research, “but we know little today about its effect on human hair follicles.” His research is based on the laboratory culture of human hair follicle cells. One of the most common hypotheses is that cold weather constricts the veins in the skull, which restricts blood flow and reduces the amount of the chemotherapy drug that is able to reach the cells in the hair follicles. “However, our research shows it’s not that simple,” he says. We were able to measure the amount of the chemotherapy drug that reaches the cells that make up the hair follicles, and we found that the cold greatly reduced the amount of medicine taken up by these cells which are dividing rapidly in the hair follicle. To clarify, the cold helmet does not act indirectly, through the bloodstream, as previously thought, but directly on the rapidly dividing cells.
The Goal is zero hair loss
“The more evidence we produce, the more data we have to facilitate the design of more effective helmets,” says the doctor. Something more appropriate may lead to greater temperature reduction, more effective cooling, and thus more surviving follicles.” The research on cooling helmets was financially supported by Paxman, the company that sells the technology. “This new research brings us one step closer to our goal of reducing hair loss to zero in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy,” said Richard Paxman, CEO. At the same time, the research team notes that hair loss reduction can be improved by using a special cream: Researchers are currently working on how best to administer this topical agent.