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Scalp Cooling

Information on scalp cooling


This leaflet provides information about cooling the scalp. Scalp cooling is used to reduce scalp hair loss that can occur with some chemotherapy drugs. The leaflet will briefly explain why chemotherapy causes you to lose your hair. It will explain what scalp cooling is, how it works, how long it takes and possible side effects or problems associated with scalp cooling. There are useful telephone numbers and websites at the end of the leaflet if you would like more information.



Why does chemotherapy cause you to lose hair?

Chemotherapy treatment works by killing cells in the body that are growing. Cancer cells are constantly dividing which is why we use chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer. Your hair follicles also contain rapidly growing cells which is why some chemotherapy treatments can lead to hair loss.


Some may find hair loss associated with chemotherapy treatments to be a very difficult side effect. Scalp cooling is used to reduce or prevent hair loss caused by certain types of drugs. Unfortunately, it does not work for all types of chemotherapy drugs or all types of cancer. Your doctor or nurse can discuss this further with you.

How does scalp cooling work?

Cooling the scalp lowers the scalp temperature. This makes the blood vessels smaller so that less blood flows through them. This means that less drug reaches the roots of the hair. As a result, the hair is not fully exposed to the effect of the chemotherapy drugs.


Cooling the scalp only protects the hair on your head. You may still lose body hair.



How do you cool the scalp?

Scalp cooling involves a tight cap that is filled with a cooled gel.


For scalp cooling to work, your scalp needs to be cold before, during and after your chemotherapy treatment. This means that your appointments for each treatment will be longer.


The first cap will need to be fitted 15 minutes before the start of your chemotherapy treatment. You will continue to wear it for 15 minutes. You will usually need two more caps later, and you will wear each for 45 minutes. For full scalp cooling to occur, the gel-filled caps need to be worn for almost two hours. These times may vary slightly with different types of chemotherapy. Your nurse can explain this in more detail.



Are there any side effects associated with scalp cooling?

Side effects from scalp cooling are very rare. However, some people experience headaches, dizziness and nausea.


Although this is very rare, it is said that as cooling the scalp prevents chemotherapy from reaching all the blood vessels to the scalp, there could be a risk of secondary cancer in the scalp. It is important to discuss any concerns or worries about this with your hospital doctor.



Is scalp cooling uncomfortable?

It could be heavy for you to wear the cap or it could be uncomfortable. You may feel cold as we cool the scalp so you may need to wear a jumper. Ask the nurse if you would like a blanket. Hot drinks will also help you feel warmer.


If scalp cooling is too uncomfortable, you can stop immediately. It might be useful for you to try it before starting your chemotherapy, so you know what to expect.



How effective is scalp cooling?

Cooling the scalp can be very effective in reducing or preventing hair loss. However, many people who have a scalp cooling treatment notice that their hair thins out a bit or that they keep losing their hair. Unfortunately, you won't know if it will work for you until you try it.



Contact telephone numbers


If you need more information about scalp cooling, please contact one of the following:


Cancer helpline

Tenovus freephone 0808 808 1010


Macmillan 0808 808 0000


Cancer Research UK







This leaflet has been written by health professionals. The information in this leaflet is based on evidence. It was endorsed by doctors, nurses and patients. It is reviewed and updated every two years.