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Cooling Method: New Caps Would Prevent Chemo Patients from Going Bald 

Tuesday, Oct 7 2014

Baldness isn't the hallmark of cancer, and it might not even be the worst side effect of cancer treatment. But it's certainly the most telltale signifier.

"I call it the 'cancer scarf,'" breast cancer survivor Wendy Brown says, referring to the head scarves that chemo patients often wear to hide their denuded scalps. The problem, she adds, is that anyone who sees the scarf instantly knows its purpose. "And then they know a personal detail that you might not want them to know."

Brown, who was diagnosed in January, managed to avoid that uncomfortable situation. Upon starting chemotherapy at UCSF Medical Center in March, she was invited to join a San Francisco-based clinical trial of a new scalp-cooling method that's edging toward FDA approval. Called the DigniCap, it goes over a patient's head before each chemo session and attaches to a machine that lowers the scalp temperature to 41 degrees — chilly enough to make blood vessels around the hair follicles contract, so that cancer-treating drugs can't harm them.

The caps, which are made by Swedish company Dignitana, have been available in Europe for years. They could hit the US market as early as next year.

Brown finished chemo in August, and her chestnut hair is just a little thinner than it used to be. But no one can tell.

About The Author

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan was a staff writer at SF Weekly from 2013 to 2015. In previous lives she was a music editor, IP hack, and tutor of Cal athletes.


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