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Tests Resume on Cold Caps to Reduce Hair Loss during Chemotherapy
Before undergoing her second round of chemotherapy, breast cancer patient Deborah Cohan dipped her brown ringlets in water and put on a tight, silicone and neoprene cap to cool her head to just above freezing.
“It’s like Amelia Earhart’s spa day,” Cohan commented to SF Gate. The UCFF physician, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology, was diagnosed with breast cancer in September.
The breast cancer patient is currently participating in a clinical trial of over 100 patients for DigniCap, an experimental cold cap treatment that cools the head during chemotherapy in an attempt to reduce hair loss.
A common side effect of chemotherapy agents, hair loss can be a devastating part of cancer treatment. Patients tend to see the hair loss as a visual reminder of their condition.
“It’s often the most devastating aspect of treatment,” Dr. Hope Rugo, the study’s principal investigator and director of breast oncology and clinical trials education at UCSF’s Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, told SF Gate.
Cooling the scalp with a cold cap constricts the blood vessels around the hair roots, making it more difficult for chemotherapy agents, which tend to cause hair loss, to affect the follicles.
Although previous studies have shown that cold caps work effectively in preventing hair loss, some patients report side effects like headaches and feeling chilled. DigniCap’s makers Dignitana of Sweden commented that studies show that around 80 percent of women in Europe and Asia using the system kept their hair during chemotherapy.
The United States’ Food and Drug Administration might soon approve the DigniCap, available in Sweden since the mid-1990s and used across the globe. U.S. patients currently use Penguin Cold Caps, a different scalp-cooling product produced by a British company.
Unlike DigniCap, Penguin Caps aren’t connected to a cooling machine, so patients must continually change the caps during chemotherapy sessions. While UCSF provides a freezer for Penguin Caps, patients must pay about 580 dollars per month, or more than 2,000 dollars for their entire treatment, to rent the caps from the company. Health insurers do not cover the expense of the caps.
“It’s a personal choice and I know not everyone might be able to afford it,” Tricia Strong, a sales representative for Southern California’s Penguin Caps, told SF Gate.
An English native based in Malibu, Strong began using the Penguin caps after she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 41 in 2011. The former real estate agent experienced minimal hair loss during treatment and decided to work for the company afterwards.
“I didn’t have to be reminded every day when I looked in the mirror,” Strong told SF Gate. “It was [a] real empowering moment for me when I thought there was something I could be in control of.”
Strong commented that Penguin’s cold caps do not need FDA approval for patient use, since they are simply external caps and not devices.
“The FDA is aware people are using the Penguin caps and have not made a statement for or against it,” Strong told SF Gate.
However, the DigniCap needs FDA approval to become widely available to patients.
“Once there’s an approved device, you can actually see if the insurance companies will offset the cost of this,” UCSF’s Rugo told SF Gate.
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