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Scalp Cooling

Information on scalp cooling

This leaflet provides information on scalp cooling.  Scalp cooling is used to reduce hair loss from the head which can occur with some chemotherapy drugs.  The leaflet will explain briefly why chemotherapy causes hair loss. It will explain what scalp cooling is, how it works, how long it takes and potential side effects or problems related to scalp cooling.  Contact telephone numbers and useful websites are provided at the end of the leaflet if you would like further information.

Why does chemotherapy cause hair loss?

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

Some people find that hair loss can be a distressing side effect of chemotherapy treatment.  Scalp cooling is used to reduce or prevent hair loss caused by some chemotherapy 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?

Scalp cooling lowers the temperature of the scalp.  This makes the blood vessels smaller so less blood flows through them.  This means that the amount of drugs that can actually reach the hair roots is reduced.  As a result the hair is not fully exposed to the effect of the chemotherapy drugs.  

Scalp cooling only protects hair on your head.  You may still lose body hair.

How is scalp cooling done?

Paxman scalp cooler: uses a machine which pumps cooled gel around a snug fitting cap.

Your doctor or nurse will tell you about scalp cooling in your chemotherapy clinic.

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.    

Scalp cooling will need to start 15-30 minutes before the chemotherapy treatment, stay on during the time of the chemotherapy and for up to 45 minutes after the treatment.    These times may vary slightly with different types of chemotherapy.  Your nurse can explain this in more detail.

Can I bring relatives and friends with me?

You are welcome to bring someone to stay with you during your treatment. Space is limited so there is not usually room for more than one person.  Treatment areas are not suitable for young children.

How should I prepare for scalp cooling?

It is recommended that you should not wash your hair for 24-48 hours before scalp cooling.

If you are using the Paxman it is recommended that you dampen and condition your hair at the hospital just before the cap is fitted. You may feel more comfortable if you have a hat or scarf to wear when you go home.

We will provide you with a starter pack including a head band, which you may want to use to prevent the cold to your forehead causing a headache.  Also included are sachets of conditioner, and useful leaflets.

How should I look after my hair after scalp cooling?

You should have been given a hair loss booklet with this information, if you have not got one of these booklets please ask your nurse.  This leaflet contains detailed information on how to look after your hair.

Are there any side effects to scalp cooling?

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

Although very rare, it has been reported that because scalp cooling prevents chemotherapy reaching all the blood vessels to the scalp, there may be a risk of cancer secondaries in the scalp.  It is important to discuss any worries or concerns about this with your hospital doctor.

Is scalp cooling uncomfortable?

You may find the cap heavy to wear, or it may feel uncomfortable.  You may feel cold during scalp cooling so you may need to wear a jumper.  Please ask your nurse if you would like a blanket.  Hot drinks will also help to make you feel warmer. The soft head band may help to protect your forehead and ears.

If you find scalp cooling too uncomfortable it can be stopped immediately.  You may find it helpful to try it out before you start your chemotherapy, so that you know what to expect.

How effective is scalp cooling?

Scalp cooling can be very effective in reducing or preventing hair loss.  However, many people who have scalp cooling still experience hair thinning or lose their hair.  Unfortunately you will not know if it will work for you until you try it.

Contact telephone numbers

If you require any further information on scalp cooling please contact one of the following:

Tenovus freephone: 0808 808 1010
cancer helpline

Macmillan: 0808 808 0000

Cancer Research UK

This leaflet was written by health professionals.  The information contained in this leaflet is evidence based.

It has been approved by a team of doctors, nurses and patients.  It is reviewed every two years.