Hair loss is a common and well-known side effect of chemotherapy, and for many people with early-stage, treatable cancer, it can be one of the most upsetting parts of their treatment. Now, however, a new medical device may help people going through chemotherapy keep their locks.
The DigniCap is the first FDA-approved cooling cap designed to prevent hair loss during chemotherapy. While manual cold caps have been used in an effort to prevent chemotherapy-related hair loss before, this is the first device of its kind to officially receive clearance in the US.
How the DigniCap Works
In order to eradicate cancer, chemotherapy drugs target all rapidly-dividing cells, including hair follicles. This is why many people experience partial or complete hair loss while going through chemotherapy. The DigniCap is designed to prevent this hair loss by cooling the scalp down to near-freezing temperatures, reducing blood flow and cell metabolism and making it more difficult for the cancer drugs to reach and attack hair follicles.
The DigniCap, which fits snugly against the scalp but leaves the ears uncovered, is placed on a patient’s head at room temperature half an hour before a chemotherapy session starts. Coolant circulates in channels throughout the cap, gradually reducing the temperature. Each cap is outfitted with a safety sensor to ensure that the temperature never drops below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Patients continue wearing the cap until about an hour and a half after their session is over, and they must wear the cap for every round of chemotherapy.
Although research is still somewhat limited, the DigniCap seems to be relatively effective so far: in a study of 117 women receiving standard chemotherapy treatment for early-stage breast cancer, over 70% of the women who wore the DigniCap kept at least half of their hair. Of these women, the majority experienced less than 25% hair loss.
Side effects of the DigniCap appear to be mild. The FDA reports that the most common side effects are cold-induced headaches, neck and shoulder discomfort, and chills and pain when wearing the cap for an extended period of time.
Because the FDA has only recently approved this medical device, costs are still being finalized (patients will pay a fee for every DigniCap use). The manufacturer is currently negotiating coverage with insurance companies in an effort to make this treatment more readily accessible to the people who need it.