Innovative Pilot Helps Breast Cancer Patients Keep Hair
Innovative pilot helps breast cancer patients keep their hair
Hair loss during chemotherapy can be devastating for breast cancer patients. But, thanks to a pilot at Nelson hospital, many breast cancer patients will emerge from chemotherapy with their hair intact over the next few months.
Breast Cancer Foundation NZ (BCFNZ) is funding the pilot, led by consultant medical oncologist Dr Kate Gregory, and breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy are being invited to take part.
Those women will be the first in New Zealand’s public health system to benefit from a scalp cooling cap that minimises hair loss during chemotherapy.
BCFNZ has paid $67,500 to purchase the scalp cooling machine, and fund a specialist nurse to operate it for six months.
Dr Gregory says hair loss is “hugely distressing for patients and many would describe it as the side effect they dreaded most.”
Scalp cooling has been offered internationally for many years. Making the scalp cold means that the blood vessels constrict, limiting the amount of chemotherapy that reaches the hair follicles. Recent studies have shown that at least 50% of women retained their hair and didn’t need to use a wig.
The pilot will determine the number of women who keep more than half their hair and don’t require a wig. It will also establish how much extra clinic time is needed for the process, and keep tabs on whether anyone drops out, and if so, why.
The chief executive of BCFNZ, Evangelia Henderson, says she is delighted that generous donors have made this study possible. “Breast cancer is a heartless disease that affects thousands of Kiwis every year. If we can help minimise patients’ hair loss by providing this machine, we’ll have gone some way toward reducing their distress and improving their quality of life.”
Natasha Holland, a breast cancer patient who recently finished chemotherapy, agrees. “I was shocked how quickly my hair fell out. For me, hair loss was one of the three big milestones, along with diagnosis and surgery. I’d have loved to have had the opportunity to keep my hair,” she says.