Can hair loss in chemotherapy patients be prevented?

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POSTED: Monday, July 22, 2013 - 6:38pm

UPDATED: Monday, July 22, 2013 - 6:42pm

It's usually the first or second question asked by patients told they need chemotherapy.

'Am I going to lose my hair?'

"Some patients value their hair to such a degree that it's a huge consideration as to whether or not to take chemotherapy," said Dr. Edward Sauter. "And maybe the primary reason."

Hair loss is a devastating side effect of treatment that is often overlooked.

"I have had people who have refused chemotherapy because of hair loss," said Dr. Sasha Vukelja at Texas Oncology-Tyler.

For women especially, your hair can define you.

"If I'm having a good hair day I feel sexy I feel strong I feel beautiful," said Robin Ross, ten year breast cancer survivor.

She said it wasn't about vanity.

She didn't want to lose her hair because she didn't want people to feel sorry for her.

"The thing I looked forward to most was being around people who didn't know I was on cancer treatment," Ross said.

And now there may be a way to stop this distressing side effect.

U.S.. Researchers are beginning a clinical study to determine if a new cap could prevent this loss.

It has been called a 'scalp chill' or a 'cold cap.'

It slows the rate at which cells in the scalp absorb blood, thus reducing the amount of toxic chemicals that can reach hair follicles.

"Overall, the studies that have been done definitely there is a decrease in hair loss," Dr. Vukelja said. "Maybe not total prevention of hair loss, but people will not have bald heads."

But, there is a downside.

Some oncologists say if the treatment is not flowing to the hair, it also would not reach cancer cells on your head.

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