Hair loss is one of the most obvious side effects of cancer treatment. Now, a growing number of breast cancer patients are freezing their scalps as a a way to preserve their hair during chemotherapy. The hair-saving treatment, widely used in Europe, requires a specialized forzen cap worn tightly on the head before, during and for a couple hours after a chemotherapy sesion. The method can be time consuming, expensive and uncomfortable, but numerous women swear by the results.
"I had the wig ready, but I never had to use it," said Eileen Bruno, 50, of westwood, N.J., who last year completed chemotherapy and cold cap treatment while maintaining her full head of thick, blond hair.
After learning that she had early stage breast cancer, Ms. Bruno said she worried about her health - and losing her hair. "Knowing I was going to lose my hair was an awful thing for me," Ms. Bruno said. "I was really struggling with the fact that not only was I sick, but I was going to have to look sick to myself and the rest of the world." Ms. Bruno learned cod-cap treatment through fiends, and gained the support of her doctors at the Weill Cornell Breast Center in New York, one of only a few New York hospitals that accomodate cold-cap treatment. The hospital has made space for a special medical freezer that keeps the caps ready at the right temperature, donated by the Mineapolis nonprofit group The Rapunzel Project. Patients can also stay in the infusion area after chemotherapy ends to finish the cold-cap treatment.
Ms. Bruno used the Penguin Cold cap,which is essentially an ice pack fited tightly on the head like a swim cap. The cold caps, which are rented for about USD 600 a month for a set of caps, must be kept frozen and changed quickly every half hour. Many women enlist friends or family members to help them quickly change and refreeze the caps as needed. Some patients hire "cappers" to help, paying USD 300 to USD 750 a day for the service.
Another scalp cooling system called, caled DigiCap, is less labor intensive. It uses a small machine filled with a colant to chill the cap. researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and several other medical centres around the country recently completed a pilot study and clinical trials in about 120 patients. U.C.S.F. also monitored about 100 women who used the penguin cap. The results have not been published, but both studies showed that most women who used a scalp-cooling cap kept most the hair, said Dr. Hope Rugo. the director of breast oncology at U.C.S.F. , who led the research.
Losing your hair is a "declaration to the world" that you have cancer, Dr. Rugo says. "hats are fine and good, but everyone knows you have lost your hair." Dr. Rugo said the DigniCap may soon become the first scalp cooling device to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, a move that would increase the likelihood of insurance reimburesement and make them more widely available. Its so important for people to know we may have an F.D.A. approved device in the near future.
by insurance, althoug doctors tell stories of women winning reimbursement in lieu of wig costs. The cost varies depending on the duration of chemotherapy and the type of cap used, but doctors estimate that average cost of scalp-cooling treatment is about USD 2000 a patient.
Wendy Brown, 59, was found to have breast cancer last year and learned of the DigniCap study from Dr. R ugo, her oncologist. She said using the cap created brief moments of discomfort, and it had to be worn for two additional hours afer her chemotherapy ended. Other than that, she described the cap as "goofy" and a source of amusement among her friends, who manipulated photographs of her wearing the cap to make it look as if she were scuba diving or pilting a Red Baron style airplane like the cartoon character snoopy.
A surprising benefit of keeping her hair was privacy. "One of the advantages is that you dont walk around with people giving that 'Oh, you have got cancer ,' look. Ms. Brown said. "Its nice to be able to control who you tell and who knows." As has been published in IE on March 14, 2015.