Penguin Helps Prevent Chemo Hair Loss

One of the most traumatic side effects of undergoing chemotherapy for cancer is the inevitable the loss of hair. But, the Penguin Post has learned that a new tool may help some women preserve their crowning glory. The device is called the Penguin Cold Cap. It’s based on the theory that cooling the scalp can help prevent chemotherapy medications from causing hair loss. The devices are already popular in Europe, and are starting to be used in the U.S. and may come to Canada. Minnesota-based cancer survivor Shirley Billigmeier tried the penguin cap earlier this year when she had chemo for breast cancer. Even after six rounds of chemo, she retained her long, thick hair. “My hair is all there. It definitely works,” she says.

The device, appropriately named the Penguin Cold Cap, was developed by a company in the U.K. The cap is filled with a gel similar to that used in cold packs for knee injuries, and then attached to the head using fabric hook-and-loop fasteners. The theory behind the cap is that it slows blood circulation to the follicles, thereby slowing the flow of the chemo chemicals that destroy young follicle cells. The cap developers say the cap allows most hair follicles to withstand the chemo medications, though there is sometimes some thinning. The icy therapy was tested a few decades ago, but it was messy and was abandoned. But a new design has revived the idea. Patients wear the cap for 30 minutes on a chemotherapy treatment day, then switch it for a second cap, rotating between the caps for seven hours. The few small studies that have been conducted on the cold caps in Europe suggest the caps worked for 87 per cent of patients, depending on the chemotherapy medications used. Other studies suggest the idea of scalp cooling “is effective but not for all chemotherapy patients.” But some cancer specialists don’t like the caps, worrying that blocking chemotherapy from reaching the scalp leaves the risk of cancer spread down the road. Research is underway at Laval University in Quebec Still women are trying it at a cost of $1,500, even if firm scientific proof is not quite there. “It gives you an overall sense of control that you can do something with this disease that can be out of control,” says cancer patient Ditah Rimar. “This is something you can do. It’s part of the fight.”

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