New Treatment For Chemo Patients Saves Hair and Privacy

The NY Times is reporting excellent results with a treatment called cold capping.

It’s being used by women undergoing chemo for breast cancer, for example, to save their hair and, some say, their privacy.

The treatment has been widely used in Europe, but is relatively new to the U.S. It involves wearing a special cap or device on the head before, during, and for a couple hours after a chemotherapy session. The cap or device freezes the head and appears to help save patients from hair loss.

The cap is essentially an ice pack fitted tightly on the head like a swim cap. The cold caps can be rented for about $600/month in NY. They must be kept frozen and changed quickly every half-hour during the treatment. Friends and family members or professional “cappers” can help patients change and refreeze the caps.

Another scalp cooling system, called the DigniCap, is a small machine that has tubes filled with a coolant to continually chill the cap so that it does not need to be changed and refrozen so often. The DigniCap is still awaiting FDA approval in the U.S.

A non-profit, The Rapunzel Project, started by two women who, themselves, were searching for methods to best weather chemo, helps others get the resources needed to try the treatment.

According to the non-profit’s website, Shirley Billigmeier began to investigate cold cap treatments prior to her own bout with chemotherapy. She learned that she could rent the caps from their inventor, Frank Fronda, but that the caps needed to be used at -30° centigrade (-22° F), a temperature that normal freezers can’t reach. Initially, Shirley couldn’t access such a freezer so she used the caps with dry ice, a difficult, but, for her, successful process.

At this point, Nancy Marshall, also a breast cancer survivor, started fundraising among Shirley’s friends to purchase a suitable freezer. Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis offered to let the donations go to its Foundation, which then purchased the freezer for the hospital. Shirley’s subsequent treatments were done using the new freezer, and Shirley kept her hair through treatment.

Researchers are working on studies now that will provide additional evidence that the caps work. Such evidence may help to get insurance coverage for the treatments.

Wendy Brown, a user of the DigniCap, says it’s about more than hair. The cap treatment helps to preserve privacy.

“One of the advantages is that you don’t walk around with people giving you that ‘Oh, you’ve got cancer,’ look,” Ms. Brown said. “It’s nice to be able to control who you tell and who knows.”

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