Clinical trials in the US are currently being held in to a new device aimed at preventing hair loss during chemotherapy for cancer. Once patients have received their cancer diagnosis and know the prognosis their thoughts often turn to the possibility they will lose their hair and this is viewed as one of the main concerns of those undergoing chemotherapy.
The DigniCap is a cooling cap device that fits tightly to the scalp keeping it just above freezing while they undergo their chemotherapy treatment. It works by contracting the blood vessels that supply the hair roots, thereby reducing the amount of cancer drugs that enter the hair follicles.
Devised by Swedish firm Dignitana, it has been trialled across Europe, Asia and now in America, and the firm says that 8 out of 10 patients have retained their hair by using the DigniCap during chemotherapy.
DigniCap in the UK
The Royal Surrey Country Hospital in the UK has been testing and evaluating the DigniCap system for two years and has now ordered several of the device for their specialist cancer treatment unit.
The DigniCap is a tightly-fitting silicone cap that is placed on the head, designed to follow the hairline while leaving the ears free. Cooling liquid is then pumped in. On top of the silicone cap, there is a neoprene outer cap that insulates and secures, while absorbing water that condenses on the inner cap. The cap is attached to a refrigeration and control unit that continually monitors the scalp temperature.
The DigniCap won’t prevent hair loss elsewhere, such as eyebrows, eyelashes or body hair. There were also concerns it might prevent cancer cells in the scalp from being killed, but incidence of scalp metastasis is very low and patients that have used scalp cooling devices seem to have no higher risk of developing scalp metastasis.
Some oncologists have reported that they’ve had patients unwilling to embark on necessary, life-saving chemo because of the possibsility of losing their hair – the appeal of the DigniCap is that men and women can take control of an aspect of chemo that can cause great emotional distress, separate to their cancer diagnosis.