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WESTWOOD (CBSLA.com) — For many cancer patients, losing hair during chemotherapy can be especially hard during an already tough time.
A new device is being tested on breast cancer patients at UCLA Medical Center and it may save their hair.
DigniCap is a cold cap that cools the patient’s scalp during and after chemotherapy, which researchers say restricts blood flow and reduces hair loss.
“I think the hardest thing for them is losing their hair, because they lose part of their identity,” said Dr. Sara Hurvitz, director of UCLA’s breast oncology department. “If you can keep your hair, look in the mirror and don’t look sick, it’s very important for feeling better.”
Angela Farino, 44, is among the patients at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center testing the DigniCap.
The Irvine resident was involved in a car accident last fall that left her with a chest injury. Medical staff were examining the area during an ultrasound when they discovered something Farino never expected — a tiny lump in her breast that turned out to be cancer.
“It was definitely divine intervention, because it was such a small lump. They didn’t know if they would be able to see it on a mammogram,” Farino said.
Farino was treated with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. She wanted to keep her treatment private but knew that chemo would cause the tell-tale sign of hair loss.
She heard about DigniCap and joined UCLA’s clinical trial.
“It’s something you can control in a process you really have no control over,” Farino said.
“We start the patients with DigniCap at room temperature and it slowly cools down, and it remains cool throughout the chemo infusion,” Hurvitz said.
The patient’s scalp is kept as cool as the inside of a refrigerator, while their body is kept warm with an electric blanket.
In the United States, the DigniCap is in the clinical stages of testing, but has been used in Europe for more than a decade with a success rate exceeding 80 percent.
Some doctors say no other devices should be used along with chemotherapy, so that you don’t leave any areas susceptible to cancer cells.
Dr. Hope Rugo, a medical oncologist and hematologist specializing in breast cancer research and treatment at UCSF, is also conducting a DigniCap trial study. He says scalp metastases, which are cancerous tumors that spread to the scalp, are very rare in breast cancer. Rugo says the DigniCap doesn’t prevent all chemo from reaching the scalp. He cited a data analysis of 4,000 patients who used a cold cap; scalp metastasis was rare among those patients and occurred at the same percentage as in women who did not use a cold cap.
The Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCLA is still looking for more breast cancer patients for the clinical trial. To find out if you’re eligible go to JCCC’s site.