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Treatment helps most chemotherapy patients prevent hair loss

▶ Watch Video: Cold caps help cancer patients prevent hair loss

Hair loss can have an emotional impact on all people during cancer treatments. But now, there’s a procedure that helps most patients.

When Alana Doctor discovered a lump in her breast she was seven months pregnant with her third child.

“And I sort of felt something in the shower one day. And, you know I panicked, as one does,” she said. Within days, a biopsy confirmed she had breast cancer.

“I had a mastectomy, which was at 34 weeks pregnant,” Doctor said. “So, you know, having the surgery when you’re pregnant, that was pretty scary.” 

“You know, I want to see my kids grow up. I felt a little bit like i was in survival mode.”

Hair loss is often seen as an inevitable, but emotionally devastating, side effect of chemotherapy. Doctor worried how her two small sons, 5 and 8 years old, might react. Then, her oncologist, Dr. Philomena McAndrew, said she could possibly save some of her hair by freezing her head.

“We want the patient to have their dignity and quality of life throughout the treatment,” McAndrew said.

The process starts with a patient putting on a tight frozen cap before chemo. They then leave it on during the treatment and for 30 minutes after, freezing the scalp in an attempt to stop the chemo from traveling to the hair follicles.

“When you first put them on, it is a bit of a shock to the system,” Doctor said.

The caps must be changed every 20 minutes with a sometimes painful brain freeze at the beginning — and they’re costly.

“It’s about $500 for the cap rental,” Doctor said. “Another $1,000 to have someone do the caps for you.” 

Many insurance policies have begun to help pay for ice caps.

“It really is one of the most distressing parts of chemo,” Doctor said of the hair loss.

It’s “femininity and feeling lovely and beautiful, and it is part of your identity,” she said. “And with the breast cancer treatment, like, so much of that is already being stripped from you.”

For patients that do decide to use ice caps, studies show about 65% of people who use them keep most of their hair.



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