Will This New Treatment Help Stop Hair Loss For Cancer Patients

0
465

When Connie Waldt was diagnosed with stage 3 metastatic breast cancer in April 2017, her first thoughts were of her six grandchildren all between six and 10 years old and how they might react to the sight of a bald “Mom Mom.”

“I was scared they were going to be afraid of me,” said Waldt, who works part-time as a bartender. Once Waldt lost the hair on her arms, her 8-year-old grandson confessed his own fears. “He said, ‘I hope you don’t lose your hair because I don’t want people to stare at you when you take me to Toys R Us,'” she recalled.

After many months of chemotherapy and a mastectomy, Waldt’s tumor is gone, her prognosis has improved, and she still has a full head of hair, which she dies a defiant hue of pink.

The secret to Waldt’s hair retention is the DigniCap, one of two devices recently cleared by the FDA to prevent hair loss in cancer patients through a process known as scalp cooling. Though the concept of scalp cooling has been around for decades — patients have been known to place bags of frozen peas on their heads during chemo — researchers and analysts say it is now poised to become the first mainstream solution to cancer-related alopecia, a problem that affects about 65 percent of cancer patients worldwide and represents a $710 million annual market in America alone.

“There are plenty of folks out there who have tried various techniques” to prevent hair loss in cancer patients, said Dr. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer with the American Cancer Society. “But none that I’m aware of has gotten anywhere near the traction that scalp cooling has.” In November the Cleveland Clinic named scalp cooling one of its top 10 medical innovations for 2018.

How it works

Scalp cooling operates on a deceptively simple principle. By dropping the temperature of the scalp a few degrees before, during and after chemotherapy treatments, it constricts the blood vessels in the head and prevents chemotherapy from reaching the follicles. The cooling is also believed to slow down the activity of the follicles, making them less attractive to chemotherapy — which works by seeking out and shutting down the fastest-reproducing cells in the body.

Dignitana, the Swedish company that makes DigniCap, was far from the first to sell a device promising to prevent hair loss through scalp cooling. Even today, dozens of freezable gel caps, wig liners and even scalp-cooling conditioners are available online. Dignitana, which distributes its devices to more than 30 countries, was simply the first company to convince the FDA it works.

In 2014, Dignitana published a clinical study involving 117 breast cancer patients. Of the 101 women who used the DigniCap during treatment, 67 lost less than half their hair. In comparison, all 16 patients who did not use the cap lost 100 percent of their hair. In December 2015 the FDA cleared the DigniCap to be marketed as a hair-loss prevention treatment for breast cancer patients in the United States.

In July 2017 the FDA expanded that clearance for use on patients with solid tumors (for example those with prostate cancer, meaning it could now be marketed to men, though women suffering from breast, ovarian and cervical cancer still make up about 95 percent of its customers). And in April the FDA granted clearance to a second company, Paxman, which had produced the first randomized study demonstrating the efficacy of the treatment. (Their clearance was granted specifically for breast cancer patients.) That study was so successful it was halted early.

In 2014, Dignitana published a clinical study involving 117 breast cancer patients. Of the 101 women who used the DigniCap during treatment, 67 lost less than half their hair. In comparison, all 16 patients who did not use the cap lost 100 percent of their hair. In December 2015 the FDA cleared the DigniCap to be marketed as a hair-loss prevention treatment for breast cancer patients in the United States.

In July 2017 the FDA expanded that clearance for use on patients with solid tumors (such as those with prostate cancer, meaning it could now be marketed to men, though women suffering from breast, ovarian and cervical cancer still make up about 95 percent of its customers). And in April the FDA granted clearance to a second company, Paxman, which had produced the first randomized study demonstrating the efficacy of the treatment. (Their clearance was granted specifically for breast cancer patients.) That study was so successful it was halted early.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here