ST. LOUIS - Hair loss is one of the top concerns cancer patients have when faced with chemotherapy.
“By many patients, hair loss is perceived as the outward expression to the world that a patient is undergoing cancer therapy,” said Laura Hooper, NP, Mercy Clinic Oncology and Hematology Clayton-Clarkson. “It can lead to negative body image and undue anxiety, but through cold capping, we can help patients regain control of that side effect.”
Chemotherapy works by attacking rapidly dividing cells in the body – healthy cells and cancer cells. Hair follicles, the structure in the skin from which hair grows, are some of the fastest splitting cells in the body – dividing every 23 to 72 hours. Cold capping works by decreasing the blood flow to the scalp, reducing the chemo delivery to the hair follicles and lessening the destruction of those cells.
Mercy’s infusion center at Clayton-Clarkson now has a Paxman scalp-cooling system available for qualifying cancer patients.
“We define treatment success as a patient who is able to retain at least 50% of their hair, so they don’t have to wear a wig,” Hooper explained. “There are some chemotherapy agents that we see higher success rate with scalp cooling. For example, in breast and ovarian cancer patients, we see a higher success rate with a taxane-based regime than with anthracycline based chemo.”
Side effects from scalp cooling are minimal. Some patients say the first 15 minutes are the most uncomfortable, some may experience an initial headache or headache during treatment, which is resolved with a pain reliever as appropriate to help manage those symptoms.
Cold capping use has grown through the years, as people learn about the option. It’s been supported at Mercy, but until recently, patients were responsible for freezing, transporting or changing of caps during treatment. With Paxman, patients will find the process much easier.
“Patients who opt for scalp cooling with Paxman come in for a cap fitting at least a week before treatment,” Hooper said. “Enrollment forms are completed by our office and patients will then receive confirmation within a day or two from the company.”
The day of treatment, there is some hair preparation such as wetting the hair and fitting the cap. The cap needs to run for 30 minutes before chemo begins, during treatment and 90 minutes after chemo ends to ensure it keeps the scalp cold enough to deter the chemo in that area.
In many cases, the cost for cold capping is out-of-pocket, though some insurance is beginning to cover a portion of the expense.
Patients interested in cold capping should speak with their physician prior to the start of chemotherapy.