Hospitals offering hair loss treatments for cancer patients

Nurses in Health City’s Oncology Day Care Unit demonstrate the use of the DigniCap system.

Hospitals throughout Cayman are offering cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment “cold cap” therapies that assist with hair loss reduction.

Health City Cayman Islands recently began using a DigniCap machine, which according to oncologist Dr. Vineetha Binoy, is the first automated scalp-cooling system approved by the FDA to treat chemotherapy-induced hair loss.

She explained that scalp cooling works by constricting the blood vessels that supply hair follicles and because of this, “chemotherapy doesn’t reach hair follicles, thereby preventing damage to them.”

The DigniCap machine replaces a manual cold cap system that Health City used for about two years, courtesy of a donation from the Cayman Islands Breast Cancer Foundation.

Unlike the older system, the new DigniCap, which circulates cool air around the scalp while the patient is seated during chemotherapy, does not have to be changed manually every 25 minutes.

Health insurance companies typically do not cover the cost of the course of cold cap treatments, but the service is available for free at Health City, the Cayman Islands Hospital and CTMH Doctors Hospital.

Dr. Binoy noted that a cancer diagnosis is “often the lowest point in anybody’s life, when they have no control over any aspect of what’s happening [regarding] their treatment … cold capping is a personal choice, and the option of preserving their hair and not to have a wig or to go bald essentially gives them a sense of control over what’s happening.”

In addition to boosting the patient’s self-esteem, Dr. Binoy said, “it has been found to help patients cope with chemotherapy better.”

The oncologist cautioned that the benefit of cold capping does not extend to all patients or all chemo regimens, “but is beneficial only to a select number of patients for certain chemotherapy regimens and cancers. It is not for everybody – it is not a universal solution, but is a solution or option for a lot of patients.”

Janette Fitzgerald, chief administrator at the Breast Cancer Foundation, said the charity had bought a DigniCap machine for the Cayman Islands Hospital, which was awaiting the arrival of the equipment.

The Breast Cancer Foundation has given manual cold cap therapy equipment, including freezers to hold the caps, to all three hospitals and has worked with hospital staff in training and implementation of the therapy.

A press release from CTMH Doctors Hospital stated: “The theory behind scalp hypothermia is that the cooling tightens up or constricts blood vessels in the scalp. This constriction is thought to reduce the amount of chemo that reaches the cells of the hair follicles. The cold also decreases the activity of the hair follicles and makes them less attractive to chemo, which targets rapidly dividing cells. This could reduce the effect of chemo on the follicle cells and, as a result, prevent or reduce hair loss from the scalp.”

CTMH Doctors Hospital’s visiting oncologist Dr. Dwight Lowe educates patients about the hospital’s cold cap therapy.