New Scalp-Cooling Devices May Help Patients Keep Their Hair During Chemotherapy
I’ve posted before about how keeping your hands and nails very cool while getting a chemotherapy transfusion may help to reduce skin and nail damage. The same idea is now propelling an exciting new study that may help some cancer patients hold onto more of their hair—by using a scalp-cooling device.
For many people—women especially—hair loss as a result of chemotherapy can be particularly traumatic. Women have fewer bald role models than men, and can suffer difficult feelings of self-consciousness low self-esteem in response to losing their hair. Susan Beausang, an expert on the issue and founder of 4women.com, puts it well when she writes, “For a woman, a bald head is an announcement to the world—’I'm different,’ or ‘I’m sick.’” No one wants to feel that way. I remember the experience well—above all, I wanted to feel normal, and losing my hair made me feel anything but.
The good news is that there are people out there trying to make this part of treatment just a little bit better. Wake Forest Baptist University Medical Center and the University of California at San Francisco have received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate a device called the “DigniCap” made by a company called Dignitana of Lund in Sweden. It’s a silicone cap that you wear on your head, with an outer neoprene cap that insulates the inner one. The cap is connected to a cooling unit that delivers consistent cooling to all areas of the scalp. The idea is the cool temperatures make the hair roots and follicles contract, reducing the amount of toxins that affect them—which slows or completely halts hair loss.
There are some side effects to using it. It’s cold, after all, and some patients experience headaches, but so far, it looks like these are the only side effects reported—well worth it for most people who want to keep their hair on their heads. The company has taken precautions to make sure temperatures are carefully controlled—the unit is connected to a computer with a touch-screen and simple symbols. If something goes wrong, an alarm goes off.
What’s promising is that clinics in Canada, Europe, and Japan are already using this cap, and the Dignitana website says that more than 80 percent of patients have kept their hair during chemotherapy. Can you imagine? In addition, Susan Melin, M.D. and lead investigator for the study, says that data from several international studies show that the device is safe to use and does prevent hair loss.1
As far as I know, there’s no way to get ahold of a DigniCap here in the U.S. at this time (although I’m not positive on that—you could contact the company directly from their site). There are other similar devices, but it seems they’re all made out of country. One is called a “Paxman Cooler,” looks very similar to the DigniCap, and is used throughout the U.K. There’s another one made in Israel called the SCS II—Scalp Cooling System. So I think it’s safe to say that this idea is catching on.
Ask the cancer centers near you if they have anything like this. If not, you may consider other ways to keep your head cool, such as frozen veggies or cold cloths dipped in ice water. They aren’t likely to work as well as the temperature won’t be consistent across the scalp, but it may be worth a try.
Have you tried any cooling methods to deter hair loss? Please share your story.
1. “Scalp Cooling Study Starts in U.S.” Breast Cancer World News March 9, 2011. http://breastcancerworldnews.com/?p=188.
Photo courtesy Dignitana via dignitana.com.