"Why does chemo have to mean hair loss? I’m trying to live my normal life, but it’s hard with a neon sign on my head that says “cancer.”"
We understand that when you’re fighting cancer, fear of hair loss isn’t about vanity. It’s about dignity, privacy and, in some ways, control. While hair loss has long been a common side effect of chemotherapy, it does not have to be for much longer. A cooling cap patients wear during their chemotherapy treatment is helping to prevent hair loss—and it’s now available at a local HCA Midwest Health hospital.
The Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Menorah Medical Center recently became the first Kansas-City area hospital to start using the FDA approved DigniCap® System. The DigniCap is a snug-fitting cap that cools the scalp and hair consistently (and comfortably) during chemotherapy infusions.
How Cooling Prevents Hair Loss
Cooling the scalp serves two purposes:
- It slows down blood flow to the scalp. That means less of the damaging chemotherapy drug(s) reaches the hair cells.
- It decreases cellular metabolism in the hair and scalp, so the chemo drugs that do reach those cells do less damage.
Preserving Patient Comfort
As a result, hair cells have a higher likelihood of surviving the chemotherapy process, which means less hair loss after treatment.
There are several sizes of cap so patients get one that will fit them best. The cap is put on at room temperature and then gradually cooled to therapeutic levels. The patient’s ears are not covered for comfort and to allows them to still hear during treatment.
“Some patients are nervous that it might get too cold, but there are sensors in the cap that prevent it from dropping below freezing,” said Dr. Stephanie Graff, MD, Medical Oncologist with the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Menorah Medical Center. “Most patients tolerate the cap well and it’s been very effective in lessening treatment-related hair loss.”
What To Expect On Infusion Day
Patients don’t have to prepare for a chemotherapy treatment with DigniCap except to come with clean hair (greasy hair can prevent the cap from cooling the scalp evenly). You will also need to be at the center a little earlier for the cap to be applied before treatment.
Your hair will be wet and combed against your scalp before that cap is placed on—this helps the cooling process. A neoprene cover is placed over the cap to seal in the coolness and make wearing the cap more comfortable. The cap is then gradually cooled to 37-41° F (3-5° C), which takes 15 to 30 minutes.
The cap is worn during the entire infusion and then left on for a post-infusion cooling session that can range from 30 to 150 minutes depending on the chemotherapy medication dosage. Once that is done, the cap is gradually warmed again to room temperature (about 15 minutes).
“Using the DigniCap does lengthen the amount of time you’ll spend overall for your therapy session,” said Dr. Graff. “But most patients find that a small price to pay to avoid hair loss.”
Deciding if DigniCap is Right For You
DigniCap is not a guarantee that hair loss will be prevented (most patients will still lose a small amount of hair) and its success can vary depending on the treatment regimen. Patients are advised to talk to their doctor about the potential benefits for them.
There is a cost to utilizing the DigniCap system, and some insurance providers may not cover it. Since it is a newly available therapy you may need a little more time than usual to get answers from your insurance provider about coverage.
If you or a loved one are facing chemotherapy treatments and want to learn more about DigniCap at Menorah Medical Center, call the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at (913) 498-7409.
Cancer Treatment at HCA Midwest Health
The Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at HCA Midwest Health brings together clinical expertise, cutting-edge technologies and community support to help patients and their families face (and fight) cancer. Services include screenings, genetic testing, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, tumor profiling and robotic surgery. Learn more about our treatment centers or explore patient stories.
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