During cancer treatments, hair loss can have an emotional impact on everyone. However, there is now a technique that can benefit the majority of people.
Alana Doctor was seven months pregnant with her third child when she noticed a tumor in her breast.
“And I sort of felt something in the shower one day. And, you know I panicked, as one does,” she said. Within days, a biopsy confirmed she had breast cancer.
“I had a mastectomy, which was at 34 weeks pregnant,” Doctor said. “So, you know, having the surgery when you’re pregnant, that was pretty scary.”
“You know, I want to see my kids grow up. I felt a little bit like i was in survival mode.”
Hair loss is frequently seen as an unavoidable, yet emotionally painful, side effect of chemotherapy. Doctor was concerned about how her two young kids, ages 5 and 8, might respond. Her oncologist, Dr. Philomena McAndrew, then told her that she might be able to salvage part of her hair by freezing her head.
“We want the patient to have their dignity and quality of life throughout the treatment,” McAndrew said.
The procedure begins with the patient putting on a tight ice cap before to treatment. They then leave it on for the duration of the treatment and for 30 minutes afterwards, freezing the scalp in an attempt to prevent the chemo from reaching the hair follicles.
“When you first put them on, it is a bit of a shock to the system,” Doctor said.
The caps must be replaced every 20 minutes, which can cause a severe brain freeze at first – and they are expensive.
“It’s about $500 for the cap rental,” Doctor said. “Another $1,000 to have someone do the caps for you.”
Many insurance plans have begun to cover the cost of ice caps.
“It really is one of the most distressing parts of chemo,” Doctor said of the hair loss.
It’s “femininity and feeling lovely and beautiful, and it is part of your identity,” she said. “And with the breast cancer treatment, like, so much of that is already being stripped from you.”
According to research, around 65 percent of persons who use ice caps maintain the majority of their hair.