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Scalp cooling technology success for cancer patients

Date: 16/02/2017

Scalp cooling technology at Cabrini is a proven success for patients who want to reduce the likelihood of hair loss during chemotherapy treatments, according to a clinical trial.

Hair loss is a common yet devastating side-effect of chemotherapy: a constant reminder and a public sign of the illness. For some people, hair loss is a reason not to undergo chemotherapy treatment.

Scalp cooling was introduced following a study into its safety, efficacy and tolerability conducted at Cabrini Brighton, which demonstrated 100 per cent patient satisfaction.

Medical Oncologist Dr Michelle White and Breast Cancer Service Coordinator Vicki Durston collaborated on the research. They agree that hair loss is one of the worst side-effects of cancer treatment and one that most patients dread.

Ms Durston says that the availability of scalp cooling treatment is a reason that patients choose Cabrini for their care. In fact, Cabrini is the largest user of this technology in Australia. “Daily I see our patients deal with the psychological and emotional effects of losing their hair,” she said. “Through offering scalp cooling, we hope to minimise the changes patients face, such as their hair loss – if it’s important to them, it’s important to us.”

Following a comprehensive literature review, a trial was established in the use of scalp cooling. Held from June 2014 until January 2015, it involved 30 patients attending Cabrini Brighton for their care. Paxman, a leading global manufacturer of scalp cooling technology, made a machine available for the duration of the trial. The results: 83 per cent of patients experienced some hair loss and 100 per cent of patients were satisfied with the results.

The success of the trial was such that – with support of many generous donors – three scalp cooling machines were purchased. Within seven months of its introduction at Cabrini Brighton, 150 patients underwent scalp cooling therapy. With significant donor support, it was subsequently introduced at the Cabrini Malvern day oncology unit too.

Scalp cooling works using a mobile system, which consists of a compact refrigeration unit containing a special coolant which is circulated through lines to the head cap. While the side-effects are minimal, scalp cooling causes some discomfort: the cap is very cold (with temperature on the scalp dropping between minus 3-5 degrees) and it needs to be fitted firmly to the patient’s head with a chin strap. A warm drink, mild pain relief and plenty of blankets help patients to adjust to the sensation.

Now most patients undergoing chemotherapy at Cabrini opt for scalp cooling as part of their treatment. Each of the scalp cooling machines used in the day oncology units at Cabrini Brighton and Cabrini Malvern hospitals has two caps, meaning two patients can use a machine simultaneously.

Patients interested in having scalp cooling should speak to their doctor or learn more at our Brightways Breast Cancer Service webpage.