A clear gel containing an experimental compound named GW8510 may help prevent Researchers Develop Gel to Prevent Hair Loss from Chemotherapy (dateline April 6, 2000) | Breast Health News | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

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Researchers Develop Gel to Prevent Hair Loss from Chemotherapy (dateline April 6, 2000)

A clear gel containing an experimental compound named GW8510 may help prevent hair loss from chemotherapy, according to scientists at Glaxo Welcome drug company. Hair loss is the second most common side effect of chemotherapy after nausea. In a preliminary study with rats, researchers found that the gel prevented hair loss in 50% of the rats who underwent chemotherapy with the drug etoposide (also called VP-16, or Vespid). Among the rats who did not receive the gel, 90% experienced hair loss when given chemotherapy.

Dr. Stephen T. Davis who presented the results of the study at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research called the results of the rat study "stunning." Chemotherapy targets rapidly dividing cells (an attribute of cancer cells) but cannot distinguish between cancer cells and normal cells. According to Dr. Davis, the gel works by temporarily stopping the rapid division of hair follicles, thus protecting them from the effects of chemotherapy.

In the study, no side effects were seen among the rats treated with the gel. The researchers do not believe the GW8510 compound in the gel has toxic effects or interferes with chemotherapy treatment. GW8510 is applied on the surface of the scalp and does not enter the bloodstream. If the treatment becomes available for cancer patients, patients would apply the gel to their hair before their chemotherapy session and wash it our a few hours after the session, said Dr. Davis. The compound does not appear to be effective 24 hours after treatment, and researchers say the gel does not cause any observable cosmetic effects on the hair.

Studies have also shown that the gel prevents hair loss in rats who were given two other common chemotherapy drugs, Adriamycin (generic name, doxorubicin) and cyclophosphamide (brand name, Cytoxan). Both drugs are used to treat breast cancer patients while etoposide is used in patients with bladder, lung, or testicular cancers. Though the animal studies have been promising, researchers are unsure if clinical trials with humans will have the same results. Rats do not always respond similarly to drug treatments as humans. For instance, rats do not lose their hair when given Taxol (generic name paclitaxel), a common drug used to treat breast cancer, but many human patients lose all of their body hair, including eyebrows.

Dr. Davis and his colleagues are set to begin human trials with the gel. Dr. William Hait, MD, PhD, director of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, says the GW8510 study is one of the first that aims to improve the quality of life for breast cancer patients. Hair loss can be a devastating side effect of chemotherapy for many women. Some women over age 40 avoid getting screening mammograms for fear that they will have breast cancer and have to undergo chemotherapy.

While physicians often prescribe drugs to help reduce nausea from chemotherapy, little has been done to address the issue of hair loss. One early attempt at preventing hair loss involved using ice caps. Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy would wear ice caps to freeze the scalp, hoping to protect their hair from the effects of chemotherapy. Ice caps were often painful and only froze portions of the scalp. According to researchers, the new gel is painless and works by temporarily stopping the rapid division of hair follicles so that they will not be affected by chemotherapy.

Not all patients who undergo chemotherapy experience hair loss. Hair loss depends on a variety of factors including the combination of anti-cancer drugs given, their doses, and the duration of treatment. Most patients do not lose their hair until two weeks after chemotherapy has begun. A variety of wigs, turbans, and hair loss accessories are available for patients who undergo chemotherapy (see link below).