Pindara Private Hospital (Gold Coast, Qld) and Medibank are working together to support patients undergoing chemotherapy with scalp cooling treatment, in an effort to prevent hair loss. Hair loss can be a distressing side effect of chemotherapy, particularly for breast cancer treatment, taking a toll on a patient’s mental health.
From March 2018, Medibank is offering funding on a trial basis to support its customers with the cost of cooling cap treatments for patients undergoing chemotherapy at Pindara, and a wide range of hospitals nationally.
Pindara oncologist Dr Andrea Tazbirkova, has seen the impact of hair loss on her patients.
“Hair loss is inevitable with most chemotherapy to treat breast cancer. It’s a very visible sign of cancer treatment and a constant reminder of the patient's condition. Hair loss – and the fear of it – can often have an emotional and negative impact on the patient’s body image, social life and personal relationships,” Dr Tazbirkova said.
The scalp cooling cap works by lowering the skin temperature and constricting blood vessels in the scalp. In turn, this reduces the amount of chemotherapy drugs that reach the hair follicles which can result in a reduced loss of hair.
Patients wear a fitted scalp cooling cap attached to a portable refrigeration unit, which circulates the cooled liquid. The cap is held in place by a chin strap while the liquid is circulated around the scalp at low pressure, reducing the scalp temperature by a few degrees and constricting its blood vessels.
The device is fitted about half an hour prior to the start of chemotherapy treatment, during treatment and for a short time after.
Scalp cooling technology has been available in Australia for several years.
“There is now evidence showing scalp cooling during chemotherapy can be a viable treatment, especially for breast cancer patients,” Dr Tazbirkova said.
Medibank said it was pleased for the opportunity to work with Pindara Day Infusion Centre to support its member patients with the cost of a course of scalp cooling treatment. Medibank is also working with Ramsay Health Care (owners of Pindara) nationally on this initiative.
Dr Linda Swan, Medibank’s Chief Medical Officer said: “Breast cancer affects many Australian women with more than 17,000 new cases diagnosed last year. Medibank already supports our customers with in-hospital treatments, and we also assist with the cost of wigs as part of a patient’s recovery. However, we are pleased to be able to do more. Preventing hair loss removes one of the greatest fears people have when undergoing chemotherapy.”
Unfortunately, patients can experience some short term side effects of using the scalp cooling cap, particularly headaches and forehead pain. The treatment may also be ineffective with certain hair and skin types. Individual patients should work with their oncologist to see if scalp cooling is appropriate during chemotherapy.
“Scalp cooling can be an effective method to reduce hair loss during chemotherapy for breast cancer patients. While some hair loss is unavoidable, scalp cooling may eliminate the need to wear wigs or scarfs. In my experience, patients who haven’t had the trauma of rapid hair loss are more positive and have improved self-esteem,” Dr Tazbirkova said.