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.

 

The Cold Cap Chemotherapy Technology That Helps Prevent Hair Loss

The Cold Cap Chemotherapy Technology

For most cancer patients, hair loss is an inevitable consequence of chemotherapy, but the new cold cap chemotherapy technology can actually help patients keep most of their hair. This method is already widely used in Europe. Now, the technology has gained ground in the United States as well.

Cold Cap Chemotherapy Studies

Two recent studies on cold cap chemotherapy were published in February. These showed that women suffering from early-stage breast cancer were more likely to keep their hair throughout chemotherapy if going through scalp-cooling treatments. This is a huge breakthrough, as losing hair can be a traumatic experience. Hair is a big part of our identity. Losing all of our hair can also make us look sicker than we are. That can affect how people see us and how we see ourselves. This new technique does not involve any medication or operation.

Two studies, one from the University of California, San Francisco, and one from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, used similar methods. The scalp-cooling cap is tight-fitting and placed on a patient’s head. It stays on for the whole chemotherapy session, and at least 90 minutes after. In the meantime, a machine pumps cooling fluid through the cap.

Why it Works

Nutrafol | Cold Cap Chemotherapy
Cold cap chemotherapy has been proven to counter hair loss. DigniCap is the one brand that has been approved by the FDA.

When your blood vessels cool down, they constrict, and the blood flow slows down. This in its turn slows the metabolism of hair follicle cells. This reduces the effects chemotherapy has on your hair growth. That cooling of the scalp works in this way has been known for some time. An older version of the technique involved several caps that had to be frozen and then manually switched out. Sometimes even regular bags of crushed ice were used.

It is easy to understand that the new cold cap chemotherapy technique is significantly more efficient and comfortable. The results from the studies mentioned above were very positive. In both, more than half of the women kept at least half of their hair. 5 percent kept all of their hair. The differing results depend on what type of other medications for the cancer the different women were taking.

In particular, researchers found that the method was more efficient on patients that do not get chemotherapy containing anthracycline. That was also proven in a third study from University of California, San Francisco. The cold cap chemotherapy is only used on patients that have solid tumors, not other types of cancer. And even women that do not think of themselves as being vain or caring about their looks when they have bigger problems to focus on think this is a very meaningful invention.

English professor Stephanie Wells told the New York Times that she first thought, “That’s so frivolous; let’s work on saving my life, not my hair.” But after trying it, she changed her mind. “I feel like something as simple as recognizing yourself in the mirror could be centering at this time,” she said.

Text by Emma von Zeipel