Hair loss is a physically and psychologically distressing side effect of chemotherapy and radiation. It can negatively impact perceptions of appearance, body image, sexuality and self-esteem, and close to 50% of female patients consider hair loss to be the most traumatic aspect of chemotherapy. Even more disturbing, 8% of female patients would decline treatment due to fears of hair loss. Although most research has focused on women, one study found that men have as much difficulty adjusting to chemotherapy-induced hair loss as women.
The hair loss can be a traumatic event separate from the cancer diagnosis, and is by many seen as a constant reminder of “I have cancer”. And because hair loss is associated with having cancer by the public, many patients feel deprived of privacy. As a result, many find it difficult to continue employment, and some avoid social activities altogether.
These psychological consequences of chemotherapy-induced hair loss may directly affect treatment outcomes, and highlight the need for preventative solutions. One of the most widely used and studied options is scalp cooling, which reduce blood flow to the scalp, blocking the chemotherapy from reaching the hair cells.
DigniCap®, a patented system developed by the Swedish company Dignitana, takes advantage of this process by providing continuous cooling through a silicone cap connected to a control unit. The caps start off at room temperature when placed on the head, and the temperature is gradually lowered for optimal treatment, making the caps comfortable. Sensors in the cap both monitor and record temperature, allowing the system to automatically regulate temperature throughout the treatment. Added benefits of the system include altering time and temperature to specific chemotherapy regimens, as well as easily being able to disconnect the caps from the machine to accommodate bathroom breaks.
While there are other cap options available, these are often ‘manual’ and need to be kept in freezers. And because the caps warm up during treatment, they need to be refitted with a new chilled cap every 30 minutes. Since the caps are at least -25°C when put on the patients’ head, they can also cause significant discomfort.
On December 8th 2015 Dignitana announced that DigniCap®, as the first and only scalp cooling system, had been granted FDA-approval after the completion of a clinical trial in breast cancer patients. One month after the last chemotherapy treatment, almost half of the women who used the DigniCap® reported that they never used a wig, cap, scarf or other head cover due to hair loss.
Although there are other options for scalp cooling as treatment of chemotherapy-induced hair loss, DigniCap® puts the patient in focus and is proven safe and efficient in clinical studies. Its focus on a comfortable patient experience make it a significant improvement on similar systems, and with a huge potential for added features and benefits.