Scalp cooling: a qualitative study to assess the perceptions and experiences of Australian patients with breast cancer

Support Care Cancer. 2016 Sep;24(9):3813-20. doi: 10.1007/s00520-016-3206-2. Epub 2016 Apr 9.


Purpose: Chemotherapy-induced hair loss is a common and distressing side effect. Scalp cooling is increasingly being used to reduce this hair loss. The purpose of this study was to explore patients' perceptions and experience of scalp cooling.

Methods: Seventeen Australian women with a diagnosis of breast cancer participated in a focus group (n = 4) or a semi-structured interview (n = 3). Both scalp-cooled and non-scalp-cooled participant views were sought. Participant perceptions and experiences of scalp cooling were discussed as part of patients' overall chemotherapy experience and a thematic analysis conducted.

Results: Five themes emerged from the data: (1) scalp cooling in the context of treatment decision-making discussions, (2) hair loss expectations vs. experiences, (3) treatment-related expectations vs. experiences, (4) the promise of faster regrowth and (5) satisfaction with scalp cooling and future scalp cooling decision-making considerations. Information during treatment decision-making was the primary factor that influenced whether patient expectations were met. Faster regrowth was a motivator to continue treatment. Efficacy and tolerability of scalp cooling influenced future hypothetical treatment decision-making for both scalp-cooled and non-scalp-cooled participants.

Conclusions: This study provides the first in-depth exploration of patient attitudes to scalp cooling. The results highlight a need for accurate information regarding efficacy and tolerability as well as hair care information to assist patients with their treatment decision-making.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Focus groups; Interviews; Qualitative; Scalp cooling.

MeSH terms

  • Alopecia / chemically induced*
  • Australia
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia, Induced / methods*
  • Perception
  • Qualitative Research
  • Scalp / blood supply*