By Chiara Battelli MD, President & Lead Physician at New England Cancer Specialists
A cancer diagnosis can change many things about our lives. As patients move forward with their doctor to examine treatment options, one of the major concerns they express is hair loss associated with chemotherapy. Unfortunately, it is hard to predict who will lose their hair even though it is a common and significant side effect of cytotoxic chemotherapy. Studies have shown that hair loss during cancer treatment can lead to lower self-esteem and feelings of depression, ultimately causing up to 10% of patients to forego chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy drugs damage hair follicles in a variety of ways: some drugs cause hair thinning or hair loss only on the scalp, while others can cause hair to thin or fall out on the arms, legs, underarms, eyebrows, or eyelashes. If a person is going to lose hair during treatment, it is likely to begin within 2 weeks of starting chemotherapy, becoming worse in the 1 to 2 months after therapy starts.
At New England Cancer Specialists, we are dedicated to making life better for people with cancer and blood disorders. This includes doing all that we can to help women and men who may be concerned about hair loss during their treatment. We are proud to announce that by the end of this year, scalp cooling technology will be available to all our breast cancer or solid tumor patients who want it.
Scalp cooling technology works by lowering the temperature of the scalp before, during and after an infusion of chemotherapy, and the data behind this technology is strong: there is a 50% chance of keeping 50% or more of your hair if you use scalp cooling—and studies suggest that your hair will grow back faster, stronger, and healthier.
Our partner in offering scalp cooling technology is Paxman, a company that has been helping patients for 25 years. The Paxman Scalp Cooling system has been cleared for use by the FDA, and Paxman offers many tools for patients, including information to help decide whether scalp cooling would be beneficial, and detailed hair care advice during the treatment journey. This patient-centered, personalized approach is well aligned with the way we approach cancer care.
The patient wears a special fitted cap on their head, connected to a machine programmed to reduce their scalp temperature, which reduces the damage to hair follicles. While patients who choose to use a scalp cooling system will still lose some hair, research shows they may lose far less than if they had not participated in scalp cooling.
We are aware that the cost of scalp cooling may be prohibitive for some patients during the already financially challenging time of a cancer diagnosis. New England Cancer Specialists is grateful for the help and support of Foundation4Love, a local nonprofit that has committed to fundraising to make sure those interested in scalp cooling will be able to afford it.
I am so proud of our teams for welcoming this new technology into our practice for the benefit of our patients. Their compassion, dedication and commitment to our patients and families is unmatched. Together, we continue toward our one goal: each patient’s best outcome.