WASHINGTON (AP) — The first time Miriam Lipton had breast cancer, her thick locks fell out two weeks after starting chemotherapy. The second time breast cancer struck, Lipton gave her scalp a deep chill and kept much of her hair — making her fight for survival seem a bit easier.
Hair loss is one of chemotherapy's most despised side effects, not because of vanity but because it fuels stigma, revealing to the world an illness that many would rather keep private.
"I didn't necessarily want to walk around the grocery store answering questions about my cancer," recalled Lipton, 45, of San Francisco. "If you look OK on the outside, it can help you feel, 'OK, this is manageable, I can get through this.'"
Now U.S. researchers are about to put an experimental hair-preserving treatment to a rigorous test: To see if strapping on a cap so cold it numbs the scalp during chemo, like Lipton did, really works well enough to be used widely in this country, as it is in Europe and Canada.
Near-freezing temperatures are supposed to reduce blood flow in the scalp, making it harder for cancer-fighting drugs to reach and harm hair follicles. But while several types of cold caps are sold around the world, the Food and Drug Administration hasn't approved their use in the U.S.