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Why losing your hair during chemo may soon be a thing of the past

Laura Bogart's work has appeared in Salon, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Tin House, SPIN, Indiewire, GOOD, and Refinery 29 (among other publications). She has also worked in health care communications.

Scalp cooling could mean chemo without hair loss

Undergoing cancer treatment can often feel as traumatic as it is necessary — the actual therapies can change our bodies in ways that are painful in a direct, physical way and in ways that damage our sense of self in other ways.

For many women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, losing hair can be emotionally devastating — and can out them as cancer patients, even when they would rather not be public about their health.

More: Surviving cancer: Bald is beautiful...or not

Dr. Julie Nangia, assistant professor at the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center within the National Cancer Institute-designated Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine, has spearheaded a new technology that is designed specifically to prevent or reduce chemotherapy-related hair loss.

This technology — The Orbis Paxman Hair Loss Prevention System, a product of Paxman Coolers Ltd. — is a direct product of Nangia’s research, which focused on using a scalp cooling cap on patients undergoing certain types of chemotherapy.

More: What to know about hair loss from a woman who's been there

“With scalp cooling, we are lowering the temperature of the scalp, thereby constricting the blood vessels and reducing the flow of blood to the hair follicles, which will help reduce hair loss by limiting the amount of chemo drugs reaching the follicles,” Nangia said.

The Orbis Paxman Hair Loss Prevention System is actually a two-cap apparatus that a woman can wear during her treatment. An inner silicon cap circulates a refrigerated fluid and an outer cap made of neoprene keeps the scalp properly insulated. The cap is detachable to ensure that women have greater mobility during their chemo sessions and is generally secured with a chin strap.

More: Beauty during cancer: Hair care, headpieces and scarves

So far, study results have been promising, and Nangia hopes this technology will be more widely available to women who want to retain their bodily autonomy — and their privacy — during treatment.

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