Scalp cooling lets 1 in 2 women keep hair during chemo
A recent study published in Medical Journal of Australia’s Insight+, reveals that some women are forgoing chemotherapy for fear of losing their hair, highlighting the significant psychological distress experienced by the ~65% of chemotherapy patients who experience hair loss.1
In response to this finding, Australian cancer experts are calling for greater access to advanced scalp-cooling technology for Australian women undergoing chemotherapy in a bid to reduce the psychological impact of treatment-related hair loss and improve patient quality of life.
Scalp-cooling technology works by lowering scalp temperature before, during and after the administration of chemotherapy. The cooling tightens up or constricts blood vessels in the scalp, reducing the amount of chemotherapy reaching the cells of the hair follicles.2
GenesisCare Medical Oncologist and article co-author Dr Connie Diakos explained that, “Hair loss can often be one of the most distressing side effects of chemotherapy, resulting in depression, anxiety, shame, and loss of confidence.
“Scalp-cooling technology has been shown to reduce hair loss in more than half of those undergoing chemotherapy. As such, Cancer Australia have recently updated their guidelines and recommend scalp-cooling technology for breast cancer.
“However, there are still significant barriers to accessing scalp-cooling technology in Australia, denying many patients the option to choose,” Dr Diakos said.
The most recent figures suggest there are more than 680,000 chemotherapy sessions performed in Australia each year,3 with breast cancer being one of the most common women’s cancers requiring this treatment.4
Sydney-based university tutor Annabel, 50, was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, and the stigma associated with chemotherapy-related hair loss was a significant concern.
“My breast cancer diagnosis came as a complete shock. However, it didn’t take me long to shift into solutions mode, and I was determined that cancer would just be a small bump in the road, and I would just get on with my life.
“Your hair and your breasts are a quintessential part of being a woman. I had to leave it to my breast surgeon to decide whether or not I'd keep my left breast, but having access to scalp-cooling therapy gave me the choice to try and keep my hair,” Annabel said.
After hearing about scalp cooling from her team at GenesisCare and seeing the results firsthand from a friend who had used it during chemotherapy, she opted to try the technology herself in a bid to save her natural hair.
“While scalp cooling doesn’t work the same for everyone, for me, it was fabulous. In keeping my hair, I maintained a sense of control over who I shared my diagnosis with. It also had a huge psychological benefit in how I saw myself every morning when I looked in the mirror,” Annabel said.
According to McGrath Breast Nurse Elaine Arnold, who has more than 12 years’ experience in oncology care, “A breast cancer diagnosis can affect multiple aspects of a patient’s life and femininity, including their fertility, body, sexual health and their appearance. Being empowered to take back some control and maintain the very visual feature of hair can be critical to maintaining their identity.”
Aurora BioScience and GenesisCare have recently announced a partnership to offer DigniCap Delta to all suitable patients undergoing chemotherapy, which will help to improve access to these technologies for Australians living with cancer.
“Scalp-cooling technology should be offered as part of standard of care in all medical oncology clinics across the private and public sector for suitable patients and we are delighted to be able to offer DigniCap Delta to our patients at GenesisCare centres,” Dr Diakos said.
“With the significant shift towards a more patient-centred approach to cancer care, it’s important that we not only look at treating the cancer itself, but also focus on the emotional wellbeing of individuals throughout all stages of the treatment journey.”
DigniCap Delta will be made available at GenesisCare Medical Oncology Centres around the country, including a new centre located on Sydney’s Lower North Shore, set to open later this year.
- Diakos, C., et al. Scalp cooling in integrated model of breast cancer care. MJA Insight+. 2021 [May 2021].
- American Cancer Society. Cooling Caps (Scalp Hypothermia) to Reduce Hair Loss. 2020 [May 2021]; Available from: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physicalside-effects/hair-loss/cold-caps.html.
- Australian institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Cancer in Australia 2019, in Cancer Series; No.119. Cat. No. CAN 123,. 2019: Canberra.
- Wilson, B.E., et al., Estimates of global chemotherapy demands and corresponding physician workforce requirements for 2018 and 2040: a population-based study. The Lancet Oncology, 2019. 20(6): p. 769-780.
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