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Cooling Cap Helps Patients Maintain Hair and Self-Esteem

April 01, 2019

When Melissa Ducker was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2018, her first worry was how to explain her illness to her two young children. Ducker’s kids were seven and 10 years old at the time, and she worried they’d find it difficult to digest the news. Ducker underwent a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction, and continued treatment with chemotherapy and Herceptin following her surgery.

Ducker was introduced to the Paxman Scalp Cooling System, used to prevent hair loss from certain chemotherapy drugs, by her oncologist, Dr. Michelina Cairo at Texas Oncology–Houston Memorial City. Because of the Paxman Scalp Cooling System, Melissa was able to retain most of her hair during chemotherapy. The cold cap helped her maintain her self-esteem, keep her diagnosis private, and meant she could choose the time she thought was best to share the news with her kids.

In order for me to keep a positive outlook and the strength I needed to go through treatment, I needed them not to worry. I needed them to go to dance and basketball practice, and just be normal.”

For many patients like Ducker, the use of ‘cold caps’ can be an effective way of preventing hair loss and can often completely preserve the hair. Not only does this help maintain a more positive self-image, it means they’re able to keep their privacy during treatment and feel more empowered.

Melissa Ducker, breast cancer patient at Texas Oncology–Houston Memorial City, demonstrates the Paxman Scalp Cooling System that helped her keep a majority of her hair while undergoing chemotherapy.

Melissa Ducker, breast cancer patient at Texas Oncology–Houston Memorial City, demonstrates the Paxman Scalp Cooling System that helped her keep a majority of her hair while undergoing chemotherapy.

Texas Oncology first engaged in a clinical trial for the cooling cap technology in 2012. Today, the cold cap treatment is offered at 21 Texas Oncology locations across the state.

Dr. Cairo said it’s been very exciting to be part of a clinical trial, using the system in a controlled manner, and where physicians weren’t just relying on anecdotal evidence or dated research. “We were participating in something very modern with a lot of rigor that was going to be focused not only on the patient experience, but patient safety,” Dr. Cairo said. “That was really important to us when thinking about adopting the cold caps.”

Ducker says the Paxman system successfully helped her retain her thick head of hair. “It’s been amazing,” she said. “I followed all the rules and did not sway. I think that’s why I was so successful.”

Recently, Ducker met with Richard Paxman, CEO of the company pioneering the technology, to share firsthand how the system has impacted her life and helped her maintain more control during her cancer journey. Paxman is familiar with the visible consequences of the disease. The system was developed by his father to help his mother while she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer in the 1990s.

“That’s why we do what we do,” Paxman said.

Privacy is so important, whether it be with children or in the work environment. Not having visible signs of the disease makes a big impact.”

The cooling cap works by reducing the temperature of the scalp a few degrees immediately before, during, and after the administration of chemotherapy, reducing the blood flow to the hair follicles to prevent chemotherapy from damaging them.

Just as Ducker did, patients undergo scalp cooling each time they have a chemotherapy infusion. The average cooling time is two and a half hours, including 30 minutes of pre-infusion cooling, cooling during infusion, and 90 minutes of post-infusion cooling.

Ducker said the nurses at Texas Oncology–Houston Memorial City were a great resource to her during the process, helping her fit the cap to her head each time. With the support of Dr. Cairo, Ducker said that she religiously followed the process, even when occasionally the cooling times felt quite long.

“We want to do more for our patients,” Dr. Cairo said.

This is something that is visible to the patient, important to the patient and may be critical for her self-esteem and well-being, and we’re happy to support that aspect of cancer treatment.”

The Paxman Scalp Cooling System was cleared by the FDA in 2018 for use by patients with solid tumors and has recently been made part of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines for breast cancer treatment, Dr. Cairo said. She said she hopes this will eventually lead the treatment to become more widely adopted and help more women mitigate hair loss and maintain their sense of normality during treatment. More information on cooling caps is available here.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.