For many sufferers, the added burden of hair loss during Cancer treatment can be debilitating and intrusive. A message to the world about what you are going through, a message very few people want to air publicly.
New studies based around an already established treatment have revealed that this reality need not be for all patients.
Hair freezing, or ‘Cold Caps’ have been around for a few years now and have most success and widespread use in hospitals and treatment centres around Europe.
The treatment requires the diligent use of a specialised frozen cap worn before, during and after chemotherapy sessions. The method relies on the belief that – by reducing the temperature of the scalp, the cap acts to hinder the metabolic activity of the follicular cells in the hair. This in turn acts to reduce effects of the chemotherapy drug on your hair by essentially putting your hair follicles to sleep, making them less responsive to the treatment.
The caps effects have also been linked to the constricting of blood vessels on the scalp that limits the permeation of the chemotherapy drug.
Although there have been questions raised about the possibility of the treatment aiding in cancer being able to metastasise to the scalp, doctors maintain this is an incredibly rare occurrence and so far, there has been no rise in cancer rates linked to the caps.
Dr. Tessa Cigler, a Weill Cornell oncologist involved in the cold-cap studies, was made aware of the treatment through a patient who conducted her own research into the benefits currently being seen across Europe.
Dr. Cigler then went on to conduct her own research and now the Weill Cornell Breast Centre in New York is one of the few hospitals in New York to accommodate the cold-cap treatment. A freezer, specially formatted to maintain the caps at the necessary temperature, allows the nurses to administer the treatment to willing participants in a monitored environment.
Researchers at the University of California recently completed a pilot study and clinical trial in 120 patients. Although the results are yet to be published, the studies have shown that most women who utilised the scalp cooling treatment were able to keep most of their hair, according to the head researcher – Dr. Hope Rugo, the director of breast oncology at the University.
Although the Food and Drug Administration in the United States does not currently approve the treatment – the DigniCap, which is one of the caps available, might soon become the first scalp-cooling device to be registered.
This will lead to the costly treatment being more likely to be covered by insurance and act to spread the information about the caps to more patients around the world.
Currently the treatment is being typically used on patients with solid tumours, and has not been deemed suitable for treatment in patients with blood cancers.
Dr. Cigler insists this technology is nothing but positive for patients enduring chemotherapy; “it is really empowering to many patients… allowing many to protect their privacy and has allowed women to maintain their self-esteem and their sense of well-being during a really difficult time.”