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Breast Cancer Foundation to fund scalp cooling for patients

Breast Cancer Foundation NZ (BCFNZ) has announced funding for up to 10 scalp cooling systems worth $500,000 in public hospitals around New Zealand.

The chief executive of BCFNZ, Evangelia Henderson, says District Health Boards across the country are invited to apply. “Scalp cooling systems minimise hair loss during chemotherapy and can make a hugely positive difference to women as they go through breast cancer treatment,” she says.

BCFNZ funded a successful pilot in Nelson Hospital last year, led by consultant medical oncologist Dr Kate Gregory. Of the patients that completed treatment, none lost more than 50% of their hair, and some had as little as 10% hair loss. None of the patients needed a wig.

Mrs Henderson says she is delighted that generous Kiwi donors have made the scalp cooling roll-out possible. “This kind of service makes an enormous difference to some patients, yet it is unlikely to ever be a priority for government spending,” she says.

“We hope as many DHBs as possible will jump at the chance to offer scalp cooling to their patients, and we look forward to receiving their applications.

“Breast cancer is a heartless disease that affects more than 3,300 Kiwis every year, and treatment can be harrowing,” she says. “These systems will reduce suffering by helping women keep most of their hair.”

Dr Gregory says hair loss is “hugely distressing for patients and many would describe it as the side effect they dread most.”

Scalp cooling is widely used throughout the United Kingdom, and more than 120 machines have been installed in Australian hospitals in the last few years.

What is scalp cooling?

Cold caps and scalp cooling systems are tightly fitting, strap-on, helmet-type hats filled with a gel coolant that’s chilled to between -15 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. Scalp cooling works by narrowing the blood vessels beneath the skin of the scalp, reducing the amount of chemotherapy medicine that reaches the hair follicles. With less chemotherapy medicine in the follicles, the hair may be less likely to fall out. The cold also decreases the activity of the hair follicles, which slows down cell division and makes the follicles less affected by the chemotherapy medicine.

Is scalp cooling hard to tolerate?

Most people can tolerate it, although about half the patients feel chilly and experience headaches. Some people find the caps uncomfortable. A small number discontinue scalp cooling because of these effects.

Does scalp cooling take longer?

Yes. The cold cap needs to be applied before, during and after treatment so may extend the time at hospital by 1-2 hours.

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