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Chemotherapy Hair Loss May Be Prevented By Scalp-Cooling Device: Study

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New research suggests that the use of scalp cooling devices could prevent some hair loss linked to chemotherapy, a condition known as alopecia. 

Two studies were published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which report that women who received scalp cooling treatments while undergoing chemotherapy were less likely to lose their hair as a result.

One study, “Effect of a Scalp Cooling Device on Alopecia in Women Undergoing Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer“, was based off of a randomized clinical trial known as SCALP, and conducted by researchers from Baylor College of Medicine. The study found that women given the chemotherapy drugs taxane, anthracycline, or both, and were treated with a scalp cooling cap, were “more likely to have less than 50% hair loss” following four rounds of chemotherapy than women who were not given the cooling cap.

The other study, “Association Between Use of a Scalp Cooling Device and Alopecia After Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer“, found that women given cooling caps had less hair loss four weeks after their last dose of chemotherapy.

Both studies looked at women who had early-stage breast cancer, took place at several medical centers, and involved the use of a tight, fitted cap that used coolant to cool the scalp before and during each session of chemotherapy.

The research comes at a time when one particular chemotherapy drug, Taxotere, is the focus of increasing concern about problems with permanent hair loss that may continue long after the chemotherapy is complete. The manufacturer now faces a growing number of Taxotere lawsuits brought on behalf of women who allege the manufacturer failed to adequately warn about the risk of long-term alopecia, which is not associated with other, equally effective breast cancer chemotherapy drugs.

Taxotere (docetaxel) is a high potency taxane-based cancer drug, which was introduced by Sanofi-Aventis in 1996 as a superior alternative to existing low-potency taxanes, such as Taxol. However, lawsuits allege that the drug is actually no more effective at treating breast cancer, yet carries a risk of permanent hair loss, or alopecia, which has not been associated with low-potency taxanes.

While hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy, it is usually temporary. According to allegations raised in Taxotere hair loss cases filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide, Sanofi-Aventis provided false and misleading information for consumers and physicians in the United States, withholding reports of on-going hair problems experienced by users of the high-potency taxane.

Plaintiffs maintain that Sanofi-Aventis knew or should have known about the link between Taxotere and hair loss problems that continue for years following treatment, yet placed their desire for profits before consumer safety.

In October 2016, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) ordered all Taxotere hair loss cases filed in federal courts nationwide consolidated in the Eastern District of Louisiana for pretrial proceedings.

It is likely that a small group of cases will be prepared for early “bellwether” trials to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and expert testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation. While the outcome of such early trials will not be binding in other cases, they may help the parties reach Taxotere settlements for women suffering permanent baldness or hair loss problems, avoiding the need for dozens of individual trials in courts throughout the U.S.

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