Cancer isn't the only fight facing women who receive a cancer diagnosis, many women also battle with the reality of hair loss due to chemotherapy and radiation. However, a new treatment option called Cool Cap Therapy can reduce and even prevent the loss of hair for those battling cancer.
Hair is a tremendous part of our identity and losing it can be a blow for anyone, especially those battling cancer. According to the US National Library of Medicine, 47% of female cancer patients consider hair loss to be the most traumatic aspect of chemotherapy with 8% of them stating they would decline treatment for fear of hair loss.
Many cancer treatment centers across America, including the Gibbs Cancer Center, have invested in a newer treatment option that can alleviate and in some cases largely prevent hair loss, called Cold Cap Therapy. The person undergoing chemotherapy wears a cap that works by lowering the scalp temperature during chemotherapy which results in diminished blood flow to the scalp area so that less chemotherapy reaches the hair cells.
The caps are cooled to around –15 to –40 degrees Fahrenheit and are typically replaced every 30 minutes during treatment. The caps are worn 20 to 50 minutes before the Chemotherapy session as well as during and after treatment. The caps are effective at preventing hair loss with around 50% to about 65% of patients reporting they lost less than half of their hair.
Keeping hair can be a tremendous weapon for someone in the fight against cancer. When asked about the importance of keeping a patients hair Jessica Pickens, the communications director for the Spartanburg Regional Hospital System said, “A patient goes through many changes after receiving a cancer diagnosis, and hair loss can give a patient the feeling that they have lost their identity. Having a way to keep their hair during chemotherapy allows them to have control over one part of the illness while still looking like themselves.”
For cancer survivor Christie Seear, losing her hair was her biggest concern. Seear received the treatment in 2010 and made it clear that it was one of the most important weapons in her fight. She compared the importance of keeping hair to that of the story of Samson in the Bible, “I truly believe your prognosis will be better if you keep your hair.” Its impact was not only emotional, but psychological, “it made me stronger in fighting the disease,” said Seear. She also made it very clear that it took a massive effort from her family to help with the treatment, but she believed it helped them as well. “My kids didn’t have to see me without hair, which I know helped them too.”
For Spartanburg resident and cancer survivor Aundi Hunter, the treatment was also very important. Her mom had found out about the treatment online, and even said that none of her doctors had even recommended it. “My hair has always been a big part of me,” said Hunter, “prior to my treatment my hair had never been cut.” Although she still lost hair, she made it clear the treatment was still worth it, “Since I started the caps after my first treatment, I still lost my beautiful curls, but using the caps throughout treatment did make my hair grow back significantly faster.”
The cost of using the caps varies depending on the manufacturer, the number of chemotherapy sessions you’ll be having, and the number of months you’ll be using the caps. Some users have said the cost of the caps is comparable to the cost of a having a wig made.
On average the cost of the therapy is around $350.00 per infusion treatment.
Anyone seeking treatment using the Digni-Cap Scalp Cooling System at the Gibbs Cancer Center can reach out to the Spartanburg Regional Foundation who does offer a fund to help patients pay for the treatment. Anyone interested can also reach out to their insurance provider to see if the cost of renting the caps is covered. If those options are out of the picture anyone needing treatment can also seek financial help through the Rapunzel Project or the Hair to Stay Foundation who both give grants to help pay for cold cap and scalp cooling therapies.
For many cancer patients, hair loss is a scary reality. But with these innovative therapies patients can receive life-saving treatment without fear of losing their identity or their hair, and receive a new psychological weapon in their personal fight against the disease.