Cool way to reduce hair loss from chemotherapy
Cancer patients at NNUH are being offered a chance to prevent hair loss due to chemotherapy by wearing a special cap to cool the scalp.
Known as the Chemocap, the gel-filled cap is cooled to temperatures below 25 degrees centigrade and fitted 15 minutes before chemotherapy is started. A separate inner and outer layer ensures that the scalp is kept as cold as possible during treatment and for up to an hour afterwards.
Cooling the scalp in this way has been found to prevent hair loss in approximately 80 per cent of patients. It works by lowering the metabolic rate and constricting the blood supply to the scalp, thereby preventing damage to the hair follicles by powerful chemotherapy drugs.
Thanks to funding from the drug company Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals, a total of 48 Chemocaps are being made available across the Norfolk and Waveney Cancer Network for patients undergoing chemotherapy at NNUH and the James Paget Hospital.
The cap is effective for patients who are receiving various chemotherapy drugs, most notably anthracyclines and taxanes, and is advocated for certain types of cancer. For those whose chemotherapy session lasts more than two hours, the cap can become uncomfortable to wear and may, therefore, not be recommended.
One of the first patients to benefit from the Chemocap is Jane Billings, a 46-year-old mother of two from Newton Flotman, who underwent a mastectomy for breast cancer in June. She is delighted that, three weeks into her treatment, she has managed to keep most of her thick, short hair.
“As soon as I was offered chemotherapy I was concerned about losing my hair. Then the breast nurse suggested I try the Chemocap and I was happy to give it a go.
“It’s a little uncomfortable because it feels very cold, particularly round the ears, but that’s a small price to pay for keeping my hair.
“I also took up the offer of a wig as well, just in case the Chemocap didn’t work, and I was very impressed with the service I received. The wig is a good match for my hair and looks very natural.”
Consultant oncologist, Daniel Epurescu, commented: “We’re delighted to be able to offer the Chemocap to our patients as the psychological impact of losing your hair from cancer treatment can be very distressing. However, it is important to remember that it is not suitable for all patients.
“We are extremely grateful to Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals for providing the funding, and also for the help and support of the nursing staff who spend time fitting patients with the caps and looking after them.”
Oncology sister Karen Noonan, who carried out a review of scalp-cooling methods, including refrigerated caps, says: “The first question chemotherapy patients ask is ‘Will I lose my hair?’ Some had read about scalp cooling on the internet and were asking questions about it, so we decided to study the evidence and compare the systems available. The gel cap was chosen because we could offer it to more patients at any one time.
“For those whose drug regime makes them unsuitable for the cap, or who choose not to wear it, we always offer a wig of their choice.”
Media Contact: Sue Jones at the NNUH on 01603 289944