For decades, many women with breast cancer in the United States have opted for chemotherapy in their fight to become cancer-free.
What they hope not to lose, however, is the crowning glory of a full head of hair. But that is a well-known, common side effect of chemotherapy.
Today, however, a new option is available in Cumberland and Dauphin counties for preventing extensive hair loss during chemotherapy for stage one and two breast cancer patients.
In August, UPMC Pinnacle became the first facility in central Pennsylvania to offer scalp cooling treatments that are clinically proven to reduce hair loss during chemotherapy for early stage breast cancer patients.
“The UMPC Pinnacle Breast Care Center has provided excellent clinical care for many years, but we are proud to take our care one step further by also working to improve the patient experience,” said medical oncologist Dr. Theresa Lee, infusion medical director at the Ortenzio Cancer Center at UMPC Pinnacle West Shore campus. “Hair loss remains a troubling side effect of chemotherapy for breast cancer, so to be able to offer technology to help alleviate the burden of hair loss is really important. Our goal is to help a woman maintain dignity through breast cancer treatments, and we feel helping someone maintain her hair if she wishes is an important part of that goal.”
The Paxman Scalp Cooling System was approved by the FDA in April after a six-year randomized clinical trial across the United States. Trial results indicated that the system preserved hair for more than half of the 186 participants undergoing chemotherapy, according to the product’s website. The cooling treatments are available at the UMPC Pinnacle Breast Care Center locations at 2035 Technology Parkway, Hampden Township, and 4300 Londonderry Road, Lower Paxton Township.
Although recently approved here, the Paxman system already has been in use across much of the globe for more than 25 years for around 100,000 patients worldwide so far, according to its website. It was designed in England by refrigeration technician Glenn Paxman, who was inspired when his wife lost hair during chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer.
Hair loss and prevention
Chemotherapy works by targeting all rapidly dividing cells in the body. Hair is the second fastest diving cell, which causes many chemotherapy drugs to cause alopecia, or extreme hair loss, according to UMPC Pinnacle literature.
Hair follicles in the growth phase are attacked in the process, causing hair loss to initiate about two weeks after chemotherapy begins. Breast cancer patients can undergo “anywhere from four (chemotherapy) treatments to 12, depending on the regimen,” Lee said.
Hair follicle damage caused by chemotherapy can be alleviated through scalp cooling treatments, also known as cold caps. It works by reducing the scalp’s temperature by wearing the 64-degree cooling cap before, during and after chemotherapy session. The cold cap reduces the body’s blood flow to the scalp, which in turn, reduces chemotherapy delivery to that area. The cold cap also slows hair growth, which decreases hair loss from the scalp.
The Paxman Cooling cap is comprised of a soft, flexible silicone cold cap that fits close to the head underneath a neoprene cover. The cover insulates the cap, protecting it from high room temperatures and absorbing condensation, according to the product’s website. It also ensures good scalp contact for the underlying cooling unit.
Lee said she’s seen favorable results for UMPC Pinnacle patients who have used the system so far.
“Our first patient started using this scalp cooling system in the beginning of August, so she is more than halfway through her treatments,” Lee said. “She still has most of her hair and does not require a wig or any head covering. By this point in the treatment regime, 100 percent of patients would have typically experienced complete or near complete loss of hair on the head and would be using a hat, wig or scarf to cover the head.
“It’s important to note that the expected efficacy of this technology differs by the type of chemotherapy regime,” Lee added.
UMPC Pinnacle nurse navigator Apryl Spencer said she believes the option of scalp cooling treatments may make stage 1 and 2 breast cancer patients less resistant to undergoing chemotherapy.
“We have had patients reluctant to accept chemotherapy with the knowledge that Taxotere, in particular, has a small risk of permanent hair loss,” Spencer said. “Now with this technology, since Taxotere-containing chemicals is one of the regimens that is most likely to maintain their hair with Paxman Scalp Cooling, patients are less reluctant to go through the treatment they need.”
For more information, visit www.UPMCPinnacle.com. Patients interested in scalp cooling are advised by UPMC Pinnacle to contact their insurer about coverage prior to treatment.