Hair Loss and Cancer – Chemotherapy Does Not Need to Lead to Hair Loss Anymore

Hair Loss and cancer – as if the dreaded disease isn’t bad enough it usually comes with the added burden of hair loss. So when the news hit the world of a new device that helps cancer patients keep their hair during chemotherapy, cancer patients everywhere felt there might be a small amount of relief to everything they already have to deal with.

DigniCap is the name of the device that is supposed to revolutionize hair loss during chemotherapy. It is a scalp cooling system that offers patients the possibility of keeping all or most of their hair during chemotherapy. According to DigniCap, the cooling system was approved by the FDA for use in the U.S. in December 2015.

Modern medicine has come a long way when it comes to handling the side effects of chemotherapy, making many aspects of the treatment manageable for the patients. But hair loss has been one of the side effects that for a long time was unavoidable. Many patients going through chemotherapy has said that they do not like the fact that hair loss makes it so obvious to others that they are are sick.

Dr. Saranya Chumsri, an oncologist specializing in breast cancer at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, a clinic that now offers their patients DigniCap, said in an interview for the local paper that many patients do not want to be reminded they have cancer.

“Even though they, most of the time, feel really well, the fact that they don’t have hair reminds them every single day that they have cancer and are on chemotherapy. With the DigniCap system, just the fact they can keep their hair makes a whole world of difference,” said Dr Chumsri.

 

How Dignicap Works When Dealing with Cancer and Hair Loss

The DigniCap scalp cooling system is a tight-fitting silicone cooling cap. The cap is placed directly on the head of the person. And an outer cap is placed on the first silicone cap, and insulates and secures it.

The cap is connected to a cooler, where liquid coolant circulates throughout the silicone cap, delivering cooling to all areas of the scalp. Before the patients put on the cap, they wet their hair, and sometimes, when the treatment is done, they can actually find ice crystals in their hair. The temperature of the scalp is lowered and the scalp is kept cold, and because of that, less chemotherapy makes it to the scalp.

These are the factors that reduce the risk of hair loss. What determines how long the patients will be attached to the DigniCap, is the treatment that they are getting. But it usually last from four to seven hours.

Dignicap and hair loss
More and more clinics are integrating Dignicap as part of the post-cancer treatment.

Still Unattainable for Most People

Even though DigniCap is revolutionizing the battle of cancer and hair loss, it is still a tool that is mainly for those who can afford it. Using DigniCap is not cheap. In fact, it costs about $400 for each treatment.

Other problems that have been reported are that some of the patients get a headache from the cap, and that the strap on the cap can give some patients irritations on the chin. Nonetheless, more and more clinics are integrating DigniCap as part of their post-cancer treatment, making it a great development when it comes to cancer and hair loss.

William Cronin, the Chief Executive Officer of Dignitana Inc, the company that produces DigniCap, says in an article that he is honored to make a real difference for cancer patients who fear losing their hair to chemotherapy.

“As more and more centers like the Mayo Clinic integrate new innovations like the DigniCap system into their cancer care regimens, we move closer and closer to the day when that fear is a thing of the past,” he comments.

 

Dealing with Cancer and Hair Loss, Part 2

Cancer and hair loss

For many people with cancer, hair loss is a necessary evil. In the previous text, Anne Sarte shared her story of how she was fighting hair loss during her cancer treatment. Here is the continuation of her series of articles on cancer and hair loss.

Cancer and Hair Loss Part 2

During that late afternoon when my dad invited a barber over so I could have a haircut in the privacy of my own home, I felt that the gathering dusk heightened the pensive mood that everyone in the room seemed to have. My entire family was there to provide support. It was like an event that one had to witness and I tried my best to embrace the moment as positively as I could.

Most cancer patients experience hair loss as a result of chemotherapy. While people who do not have cancer may have varying stages of alopecia at some point in their life, those undergoing treatment are most vulnerable to hair loss because the chemicals used to target cancer cells also destroys hair cells.

The cocktail, that combination of burning chemicals that was injected into my body, was like an M240 machine gun shooting both good and bad cells at the rate of 950 rounds per minute. My hair follicles, which were in charge of producing my hair by dividing every 23 to 72 hours, were no match for the assault weapon and were clearly collateral damage.

It was then that I realized that it was only a matter of time before it would attack not only the hair on my scalp but also my eyebrows, lashes, the hair on my arms, legs, armpits, and even those in the nether regions. Well, at least there is no need to be terrified of the infamous Brazilian wax!

Cancer and hair loss
Hair loss due to chemotherapy not only affects the hair on your head, but also lashes, eyebrows and all the hair on your body.

Someone once asked, “How can I control my life when I cannot control my hair?” It is a perfect metaphor for people who need some organization in their lives, but what happens if one does not have hair, or has lost it in the battlefield of chemotherapy? Does that mean that one has lost control over one’s life? For most patients, cancer and hair loss go hand in hand. It seemed very much so as I clutched clumps of falling hair in the shower during those days. There were days when my health, like my hair, was slipping through my fingers and waxing philosophical just became a hobby.

The barber took out his trusty electric razor and started parting what was left of my hair in sections. I heard the whirring of the razor before it landed on my head, much like a lawn mower does on a grassy lawn. My lawn was now in patches and desperately needed some serious makeover.

I tried to peep at my family through wisps of hair hanging on my forehead. My son, who was 12 at that time, was a mix of awe and good humor at seeing his mom turning into a skinhead. My dad, though, looked serious, and my mom had that look in her eyes that I knew was borne out of sadness and pity. It was then that I took in a deep breath and knew these were the people I wanted to have beside me at a time like that. As the remaining patches of hair fell gently on the floor, I could not help but shed a tear.

I had lost all my hair, but in the process of fighting against cancer and hair loss, I found myself and a lot of other little lessons along the way.


Text by Anne Sarte

This was the second part in a series of three. Part three will be published in two days.

Photo credits: Jose Martinez via Flickr

arianne leishman via Flickr

Dealing with Cancer and Hair Loss, Part 1

Cancer and hair loss

Cancer and Hair Loss Part 1

Several years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. One of my elder sisters had died of it at the age of 39. Although the rest of us females in the family did not go through testing to see if we were genetically predisposed to it, it clearly made the case when I found out I had it – decades after she passed away. For most people, Cancer and Hair Loss will come together. This is the story of my journey.

Genetics, stress, diet, lack of exercise and pollution are all contributors to disease and we just have to deal with the bodies we are given. Since I have a small frame, the external effects of mastectomy did not sink in as much. I was not giving Kim Kardashian a run for her money by a mile before the surgery, so looking like Kate Moss afterwards was not such a bad prospect after all. It was useless taking before and after pictures because one would not notice the difference if someone was flat as a board from the start.

Then it dawned on me – it is easy to have an appendage such as a breast taken out because no one would notice it as much anyway unless you had triple D implants done before. What was difficult to accept, and adjust to, was the imminent hair fall as a result of chemotherapy. Hair, or the lack of it, is something that is more difficult to cover. And in most cases, cancer and hair loss are linked together. I have had all sorts of hairstyles in the past – from pixie to shaggy, from Goldie Hawn curls to Mulan straights – but I have never, ever been bald before. Not until my chemo.

Two weeks after my first treatment, my hair was still hanging onto my scalp for dear life. I was about to give myself a pat on the back for growing such strong hair but that moment did not last long. I was sitting in front of my work desk one morning and I noticed a few strands falling. It looked as if chemo, cancer and hair loss do coincide, even for people with a lot of hair. As I sat down to work each day, the strands seem to fall faster – first, they fell on my shoulders and I would grab a handful and put them in the nearby trash bin. Then they fell on my lap, and soon gathered in a pile on the floor beside me.

Cancer and hair loss
Cancer and hair loss are oftentimes coincidental and can be a traumatic experience.

I realized that I could just sit there and my hair would literally shed, just like leaves falling off a tree in autumn. The difference was that autumn leaves are always beautiful but my hair fall was not a pretty sight. Soon, I had filled up the trash bin and I had to empty it so I could repeat the same process. It was getting obvious that my hair was thinning out faster in some areas. When my scalp started to look like a map of islands, that was the time I decided to shave my head.

A lot of decisions during a cancer journey are made because one has to, not because one wants to. It feels better when one has a choice to make, or several choices to choose from, but disease has a way of pushing you against the wall, staring you in the eye, and sticking a gun against your chest.

You decide either to live or to die slowly. To resist or give in. To breathe or suffocate. To fight back or crumple on the ground.

When my doctor told me I had cancer, I knew I had to undergo surgery – as soon as possible. There was no other choice for me since I did not want to die just yet. In my mind, dying before one reaches 50 is not an option for someone who still has family to take care of, and a promising future ahead of her.

After surgery, I made the decision to go through chemotherapy. As much as I wanted to try alternative methods, I did not think time and genetics were on my side.

A month or so after my first chemo, when I was having seriously bad hair days on top of a compromised immune system, I had no other choice but to shave my head and go bald. I will never forget that day because that seemingly trivial event of having a haircut completely changed the way I viewed life.


Text by Anne Sarte

This is the first part in a series of three. Part two will be published in two days.

Photo credits: michellehurwitz via Flickr

Beth Punches via Flickr