Breast cancer patients worried about hair loss find hope in innovative treatment
By Wade Smith MD, medical oncologist, City of Hope Newport Beach
The changes your body may experience during breast cancer treatment can be a lot to cope with physically and emotionally – and that stress can be compounded if you’re worried about losing your hair from chemotherapy.
It can be a potential sign to others that you are ill and it can undercut your sense of self. Those concerns are understandable, say the breast cancer experts at City of Hope Newport Beach, and the solution for many may be an innovative technology that can help minimize hair loss.
The DigniCap® Scalp Cooling System is a leading-edge treatment often referred to as a cooling cap. Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it consists of a computerized cooling unit with a cap attached. During chemotherapy, coolant circulates through channels in the cap at a consistent temperature, which is maintained via a touch-screen display on the cooling unit.
When the scalp is cold, two important things happen, said Wade Smith, M.D., a medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at City of Hope Newport Beach, which offers the cooling cap system.
“When the temperature of the scalp is decreased, blood can’t flow as freely to the cold area, and cellular activity slows down,” Smith said. “As a result, hair follicles aren’t exposed to as much of the chemotherapy as they typically would be, which lowers the chances of hair loss.”
Here is how the cooling cap works in practice. First, the cap is precisely fitted for the best results, and the scalp is cooled for 30 minutes prior to the infusion. The cap stays on while chemo is administered and for one to three hours afterward, while the chemotherapy drug is still in the patient’s system. The temperature is monitored so it never falls below freezing.
Cooling caps are well tolerated by most patients. While the cold temperature may cause some initial discomfort, it usually goes away in about 30 minutes. Results may vary, and some hair shedding can be expected for most patients, depending on the type or dosage of chemotherapy drug, the duration of their treatment regimen and other factors.
Experienced patients may do a little additional preparation. “You might find you prefer to come to your chemotherapy appointment with wet hair, which makes it easier to put on the close-fitting cap,” Smith said. “I also recommend bringing thick socks and a blanket in case you want to stay extra warm.”
Cooling caps are an example of the exciting advancements taking place in the area of comprehensive breast cancer care, said Smith.
“It’s empowering to partner with your physician to manage side effects. It provides a greater sense of control and self-confidence that makes a real difference in coping with the stresses brought on by cancer treatment,” Smith said.
Discover safe and expert care at City of Hope Newport Beach. To learn more, or to schedule an appointment with a highly specialized breast cancer expert, please call City of Hope Newport Beach at (949) 763-2204 or visit cityofhope.org/OC.