Newswise — Scalp cooling can lessen some chemotherapy-induced hair loss – one of the most devastating hallmarks of cancer – in certain breast cancer patients, according to a new multicenter study from UC San Francisco, Weill Cornell Medicine and three other medical centers.  

A majority of the study’s patients, all women with stage 1 or 2 breast cancer who underwent scalp cooling, retained more than half of their hair after completing chemotherapy, the investigators learned. The study, which tracks patients over five years, used standardized photographs to grade hair loss.

The study will be published Feb. 14 in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Hair loss is almost universal among breast cancer patients receiving adjuvant chemotherapy and is one of the most distressing of adverse side effects,” said first author Hope S. Rugo, MD, the corresponding author who led the study. Rugo is a UCSF professor of medicine specializing in breast cancer research and treatment, and director of the breast oncology and clinical trials education program at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“We found that scalp cooling during commonly used chemotherapy regimens was well tolerated and was associated with significantly less hair loss, as well as improvement in several quality-of-life indicators,” Rugo said. “While further research is needed, the data suggest that when scalp cooling is successful at decreasing hair loss, it could improve the treatment experience for women undergoing adjuvant chemotherapy for early-stage breast cancer.” 

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women around the world, both in developed countries and less developed ones, according to the World Health Organization.

Scalp cooling has been used in more than 30 countries as a way to potentially prevent hair loss in patients receiving chemotherapy; in Europe it’s been used for several decades. Two types of cooling caps are typically used: frozen caps that need to be replaced every half hour, or cooling systems that continually circulate coolants into a cap during the entire chemotherapy session.