Scalp-cooling caps a game-changer for cancer patients across the region

TRANSFORMING LIVES: Armidale Hospital general manager Wendy Mulligan, Glenda Riley and Helen Goodall on Monday afternoon. Photo: Rachel Baxter.

TRANSFORMING LIVES: Armidale Hospital general manager Wendy Mulligan, Glenda Riley and Helen Goodall on Monday afternoon. Photo: Rachel Baxter.

A relatively simple piece of technology has become a game-changer for local cancer patients who may now be able to keep their hair during chemotherapy.

Invented in the UK, the Paxman scalp cooling unit combats chemotherapy-induced hair loss – and it’s now available at Armidale Hospital.

“It reduces the temperature of the scalp to around 17 degrees and reduces the levels of the toxic chemotherapy drugs reaching the hair follicles,” Regional Health Care Group Rob Lawrie told The Express at a launch in Armidale on Monday. 

It’s technology that Armidale resident Glenda Riley wishes was around when she was undergoing chemotherapy.

“I lost my hair after the third treatment and it was devastating,” she said.

I lost my hair after the third treatment and it was devastating.

Glenda Riley

“My head felt itchy one day and the next day it fell out.”

Ms Riley said she didn’t want to go anywhere or be seen by anyone without her hair.

“I was lucky that I went and purchased a wig from the wig library,” she said.

“I knew I had that to fall back on but given the opportunity I would have definitely tried it.”

Ms Riley has been in remission for three years.

Mr Lawrie said there was currently only around 100 caps available in Australia.

“The technology has been around for almost a decade … but we’re finding more and more they’re going to regional areas which is fantastic,” he said.

“Over 90 per cent of the hospitals in the UK use this technology.”

It recycles a special coolant, while the machine at about -3 degrees.

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Armidale Hospital Oncology nurse Helen Goodall told The Express they have only just started trialling the new equipment in Armidale.

“We’ve only had one patient use it once and my guess is during the course of treatment we’ll see if it works for her or not,” she said.

“It doesn’t work for everyone, it depends on the type of chemotherapy and the persons own ability to block the uptake of the chemo.”

Ms Goodall said it also depends on a patient’s willingness to try the technology.

“I think there will be a certain percentage of people who definitely want to try it and others who will say ‘no this isn’t for me’,” she said.

“It takes about two or three weeks to see if it will work and I do believe they get some thinning (hair) anyway but certainly day 17 to 25 are the big days we’ll be able to tell.

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Northern Tablelands MP checks out the new equipment at Armidale Hospital on Monday. Photo: Rachel Baxter.

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Northern Tablelands MP checks out the new equipment at Armidale Hospital on Monday. Photo: Rachel Baxter.

“For some women it will decide whether or not they have chemotherapy or not.”

The technology was made possible thanks to a $49,000 grant from the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation to the Cancer Council NSW.

The money enabled the hospital’s oncology unit to fit out a room with eight silicon cooling caps to treat 15 to 20 patients a week.  

Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation Chairman Phil Neat said it was pleasing to know there are solutions to promote patient wellbeing during what is generally a very distressing time.

“For many patients, hair loss during chemotherapy is a very traumatic side effect as it means an obvious change in a patient’s physical appearance – reducing their confidence and overall wellbeing,” he said.