Many patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer will experience hair loss. And the common side effect, which typically occurs anywhere from seven to 21 days after treatment begins, is widely recognized as one of the most traumatic experiences a patient may encounter during cancer treatment.
Archbold Memorial Hospital’s Lewis Hall Singletary Oncology Center is hoping to change that.
The Singletary Oncology Center recently acquired the Paxman Scalp Cooling System, an FDA approved clinical technology that will help preserve patients’ hair — and their confidence — during chemotherapy.
“The principle of chemotherapy is to interrupt and damage the mitotic and metabolic processes in cancer cells,” said Amanda May, MD, medical oncologist at the Lewis Hall Singletary Oncology Center. “But because chemotherapy drugs target fast-growing cells in the body, the medicine can’t tell the difference between cancer cells and other cells like hair follicles. Hair is the second-fastest dividing cell in the body, which is why many chemotherapy drugs tend to cause hair loss.”
However, according to Dr. May, the damage that chemotherapy causes to hair follicles can be alleviated in certain patients by using the new scalp cooling technology.
Scalp cooling, also referred to as “cold cap therapy,” works by narrowing the blood vessels beneath the skin of the scalp, reducing the amount of chemotherapy medicine that can reach the hair follicles.
“The cooling treatment, which happens before, during, and after each infusion, decreases the activity of the hair follicles, which slows down cell division and makes the follicles less affected by the chemotherapy medicine,” Dr. May said.
The cooling system consists of a compact refrigeration unit with a coolant that is circulated through specially designed cooling caps the patient wears before, during, and after each infusion treatment. The custom fitted cooling cap is made of a soft, flexible, silicone material, and it provides a close, but comfortable, fit around the patient’s head. As coolant passes through the cap to extract heat from the patient’s scalp, inline temperature sensors ensure the cap maintains the scalp at an even, constant temperature. A neoprene cover on the cap assists in the efficiency and operation of the system, insulating and protecting the cap from high room temperatures and absorbing condensation while ensuring good contact with the scalp— an essential factor for successful treatment. Once the treatment is finished, the cap can be disconnected from the coolant line, properly cleaned, and made ready for the next patient.
The pre-cooling stage takes place 30 minutes prior to the beginning of the drug infusion. This ensures that the scalp is at the required temperature before chemotherapy is administered. The cap is worn throughout the administration of chemotherapy drugs and up to 90 minutes after treatment.
Scalp cooling is most commonly used for patients with cancer in a tissue or an organ (e.g., breast, colon, ovary, uterus, lungs, or prostate). The treatment is not available for cancer in the blood or lymph nodes.
“Your medical oncologist can help determine if you are a good candidate for the scalp cooling treatment,” Dr. May said.
The cost of the treatment is about $2,000 for each patient and is currently not typically covered by insurance. To ensure eligible patients have affordable access to the treatment, the Archbold Foundation recently awarded a grant to the Singletary Oncology Center to help offset the cost for patients seeking cold cap therapy treatment.
“Through donations made to the Archbold Foundation, we are able to offer patients access to this technology that can bring the much-needed comfort they need during their cancer treatment,” said Becky Troyer, administrator at the Singletary Oncology Center. “We are very grateful for the support of the Archbold Foundation that will help ensure our patients have access to this new scalp cooling technology, regardless of their ability to pay for the treatment. We are very excited to bring this new technology to our South Georgia region, and we look forward to watching how it will positively impact the overall well-being of our patients during their cancer journeys.”