One of the most difficult hurdles women must overcome when they receive chemotherapy is the loss of their hair. Eve Grossman-Bukowski, a mother of two young children, felt that keeping her hair showed her seven-year-old twins that even though she had cancer she still looked normal and had energy. She was very motivated to find a way to not lose her hair. (abclocal.go.com)
"The idea behind scalp cooling is that by cooling down the scalp, it constricts blood vessels and decreases the delivery of the chemotherapy drugs to hair follicles," Dr. Michelle Melisko of the UCSF (University of California San Francisco) Cancer Center said to abcnews. In this way hair loss can be prevented. While scalp cooling has been used in Europe for many years, here in the U.S. there has been concern that by freezing the scalp, chemotherapy would not reach and kill any cancer cells still lurking in that part of the body.
Dr. Hope Rugo, an oncologist and director of Breast Oncology and Clinical Trials Education at the UCSF, does not think there is enough evidence to support that concern. Since the caps have not been stringently tested here in the U.S., UCSF reported in a Dec., 2010 news release that they are performing a United States Food and Drug Administration-approved clinical trial of the Dignicap made by Dignitana, a Swedish company. The Dignicap works by circulating a gel that has been super cooled through a neoprene cap for the entire chemotherapy session.
This study will test the Dignicap on 20 women and a larger study on 100 women will hopefully follow. “According to research by Dignitana, makers of the DigniCap system, eight out of 10 women in Europe and Asia who used the company’s cap cooling system during chemotherapy retained their hair.” (ucsf.edu).
To preserve her hair, Grossman-Bukowski used a method that is also available to those who do not qualify for the UCSF clinical trial called the Penguin cap, which is produced by MSC, Medical Specialties of California. The Penguin cap is packed in a cooler of dry ice or special freezer and cooled to a temperature of minus 26 to minus 30 degrees centigrade. The cap will cool the scalp to 31 degrees. The MSC website has specific instructions on how to fit and properly wrap the Penguin cap for optimal benefit. The caps can be rented monthly for approximately £328 or $536.
The downside to using the cold caps is that they feel extremely cold and can be a bit painful. One cancer patient woman described the Dignicap as, "It's like sticking your head in Lake Tahoe for six hours." Having gone swimming in Lake Tahoe, I can say the water temperature there is truly chilling. It also can take 13 to 17 cold caps exchanges since they need to be replaced as they warm below the required cold temperatures.
However, women who are motivated to keep their hair are not deterred in their pursuit. The desire to retain a feature that so much defines how we appear to others and ourselves is that important.
Cooling cap offers hope for chemo patients
UCSF Tests Promising Solutions for Cancer Hair Loss
Penguin Cold Cap
The Rapunzel Project
Edited by Alison Stanton
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s health care and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele are at www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles