Breakthrough Treatment Helps Cancer Patients Keep Hair During Chemo

Hair is a big part of a woman’s identity. For those undergoing chemotherapy after a cancer diagnosis, the thought of losing their hair is devastating. Now, there’s hope for women who want to keep their hair during chemotherapy sessions. A breakthrough method called cold capping helps cancer patients hold on to their locks.

Dr. Elisa Krill-Jackson of Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center says when a cancer patient doesn’t lose his or her hair, other side effects of chemotherapy appear less significant.

“When women don’t lose their hair they have fewer side effects. The nausea doesn’t seem as bad. The fatigue doesn’t seem as bad and that person looking in the mirror is this person they recognize,” explained Dr. Krill-Jackson.

The cold cap is a scalp-cooling system which reduces the blood flow to the scalp area, blocking chemotherapy from reaching hair cells. The silicone cap is kept at a freezing temperature to restrict blood flow in the scalp, preventing damage to hair follicles.

Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center offers the DigniCap, which is FDA-approved. Dr. Krill-Jackson says the procedure is safe, but she adds that results are not successful for everyone.

“The data is that 70 percent of patients will retain more than 50 percent of their hair with the cold cap. For most women, if you retain 50 percent the whole world doesn’t know that you are going through chemotherapy,” said Dr. Krill-Jackson.

Breast cancer survivor Lauren Mann used the Penguin Cold Cap, another brand of the scalp-cooling system. She was successful at keeping her hair. Mann said the process was time-consuming.

“You place a frozen helmet on your head an hour before you start [chemotherapy] and throughout. Five hours after or so, you need to switch out caps,” explained Mann.

Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center is one of the hospitals in South Florida that offers cold caps to cancer patients.

“We have one machine at this point that allows two people to use it during chemotherapy at any one day,” Dr. Krill-Jackson said.

One may wonder the risk of cancerous cells spreading in the area where the cold cap is blocking chemotherapy. Dr. Krill-Jackson doesn’t recommend the method to certain cancers.

“It’s only recommended for solid tumors, and patients with very high-risk cancers -- many nodes positive -- we may not recommend people use it,” the oncologist explained.

The procedure brings hope to many women, but insurance may not cover the cost. The DigniCap can cost anywhere between $1,500 and $3,000. There are charitable organizations that will provide financial assistance to patients. One of them is the DigniCap Fund at the Mount Sinai Foundation.

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