Cold May Spare Your Hair from Chemo: Who Knew?

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Will & Deni McIntyre

Can you have chemo and keep your hair? According to the Washington Post, the answer is probably yes — that is, if you are willing to subject yourself to wearing icy caps set at a skull-chilling -30 Fahrenheit that can cost thousands of dollars.

The article examines research on the subject while telling the story of Katherine Klein, a management professor and mother of two who needed chemotherapy to treat breast cancer following a mastectomy. A 2005 review of 53 studies, which included data collected through 2003, found a 73% success rate for cold caps in preventing the need for a wig; even newer studies show 80-90% success rates, depending on the chemo regimen involved.

But the point of the chilling caps, writes author Stefanie Weiss may have more to do with coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis than about keeping a ‘do:

Katherine calls the entire production a “tremendous hullabaloo.” If I were in her shoes, I don’t know if I’d go through it. But after months of talking to Katherine and observing Team Cold Cap, I do know this: It’s not about the hair.

I think it’s mostly about control. In the wake of a life-threatening cancer diagnosis, a double mastectomy and the prospect of reconstructive surgery, who wouldn’t want to have some control over, well, anything?

Since the surgery, Katherine says, “I’ve sought to do things that make me feel in control, more peaceful, more healthy and more optimistic. If research, or even ample anecdotal evidence, suggests that something might help and can’t hurt, I’ve probably tried it: exercise, vitamins, changes to my diet, acupuncture, meditation and deep relaxation, extra sleep, social support, soul support and cold caps.”

Keeping her hair was like thumbing her nose at cancer and chemo, she says. “I don’t have to look in the mirror and see myself as a cancer patient.”

More on TIME.com:

A Step Toward Personalized Care of Leukemia Patients

Pregnant Women With Breast Cancer Should Do Chemo

A Blood Test for Cancer?

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