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Learning About Cooling Therapies During Chemotherapy

Examples of a frozen glove and a cooling cap

What are cooling therapies?

Cooling therapy is a system used to apply cold to your scalp, hands, or feet while you are having chemotherapy (chemo). It may help reduce problems that some chemo medicines can cause with your hair, skin, and nails.

Wearing a cooling cap on your head may help reduce hair loss. Wearing frozen socks or gloves may help reduce problems with the nails. Nail problems may include loose nails or pools of blood under the nails. They may also include nails that get infected or fall off. Frozen socks or gloves may also help reduce tingling, pain, and numbness in your hands and feet.

How do they work?

Chemo medicines destroy fast-growing cells in the body. These include cancer cells. But they also include cells in the scalp, the fingernails and toenails, and the nerves in the hands and feet.

Cooling therapy constricts (narrows) the blood vessels below the skin where hair and nails grow.

Experts think that cooling allows less of some chemo medicines to get to these areas. This may reduce the impact of chemo on these cells.

How are they done?

You wear a cooling cap or frozen gloves or socks at the treatment centre. You wear one or more of these items during treatment, and for a time before and after treatment.

There are several types of cooling caps. One is a cap that has cold liquid running through it during treatment. Another type is a tight-fitting ice pack.

Frozen gloves or socks may have frozen gel in them. Or you may cover your hands or feet with very cold water or gel ice packs.

It's important that the device stays very cold. If you use one that has ice or frozen gel, you may need to switch it for a cold one when the first one starts to warm.

Cooling therapy works best for certain chemo medicines and types of cancer. Ask your doctor if this therapy might work for you.

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