It is fair to saay, there is nothing easy for someone first hearing the words, ‘you have cancer.’ For many a number of words and or questions might first come to mind: Stage, type, prognosis, treatment and for many women —‘will I lose my hair?’
While many cancer regimens (i.e.: treatments) do not have a side effect of hair loss, there are a fair share of chemotherapies used for solid tumor cancers, such as breast, ovarian, uterine, prostate, colon, bladder and in some cases lung, that result in hair loss for both men and women.
Fortunately patients undergoing those types of chemotherapy, now have the ability to potentially “save” their hair or at minimum retain a good portion thanks to scalp cooling.
First invented by Swedish oncology nurse Yvonne Olafsson in 1996 and patented in 1998, the idea has been launched and used in many forms since that time. Olafsson was the brains behind the DigniCap, a scalp cooling system which in 2015 became available in the United States, when it received FDA clearance.
“Unfortunately in terms of awareness we’re trying to educate the whole world, because any of us could get cancer at any time,” Melissa Bourestom, Chief Communications Officer of Dignitana, shared. “Our hope is that by increasing awareness, especially among people who are either in the health care community or among friends and family who might have heard about scalp cooling will say ‘you know I heard there’s this thing that can help you save your hair.’”
In 2017, the FDA expanded the clearance to include men and women with solid tumor cancers undergoing chemotherapy.
“We recognize that cancer is one of the hardest things that most people will ever have to deal with in their life,” Bourestom acknowledged. “Scalp cooling offers you a way to hopefully make that a little more tolerable. Maybe that means you get to maintain your privacy, whether you can wake up in the morning, still have your hair and look like yourself, keep your self-esteem, whether you can have some measure of control because you’re doing something to fight back. All of those things are just really, really important.”
The name DigniCap, comes from the root dignitas, which is Latin for dignity.
“The wrap itself is flexible. It’s designed to closely fit your head. There’s a couple things that we know about scalp cooling for sure, you need to have very close contact to the head and you need to have a constant temperature,” Bourestom stated. “That is achieved by the wrap filled with coolant.
“It’s kind of like a blood pressure cuff,” she continued. “It’s flexible material, it fills up with coolant and it pushes up against your head. That’s unique in the market. There are no other caps that fit any head shape or size like our cap does.”
A neoprene cap then covers the wrap to ensure the wrap stays close to the scalp with no air pockets. Once properly fitted by a trained nurse, a 30-minute pre-freeze begins to get the patient acclimated to the cold temperature. The DigniCap is worn during infusion, as well as post infusion. The length of time post cooling is determined for half the life of the drug administered.
Bourestom shared that while the Scalp Cooling System is proven to be effective, the organization cannot guarantee no hair loss.
“When we talk about our efficacy rate or success rate, it’s hard,” she confided, noting that a variety of factors can contribute to the ultimate success rate of the system. Simple things such as age, prior smoking history, overall health prior to diagnosis, as well as observance of guidelines given once a patient begins using the system.
“There are times that patients do all that they’ve been advised and still may not have a good outcome,” she continued, adding that the pivotal trial showed that 66 percent of patients were able to keep 50 percent of their hair.
“That’s considered success,” she stated. “The patient perception of how you look and what is “success” with scalp cooling is one of the most difficult. It’s really hard to help patients and doctors and nurses understand how to talk about that.”
Not only does Bourestom feel spreading the word of the DigniCap Scalp Cooling System is important, but so is awareness by way of insurance providers. At present time most providers in California do not offer coverage or a reimbursement for the cooling system. There are, however, a number of organizations that offer subsidies to help cover the cost of DigniCap.
“We’re very much trying to work toward standardized reimbursement,” she said, “so that patients and health care providers know what to expect when they’re looking at whether to do this treatment or not. We’re just not there yet.”
One thing noted that is most helpful is for a patient to submit a claim, even if the provider shares it’s not covered. The codes must still be put in and are tracked. The more tracked and denied, the stronger the case for standardizing coverage.
“Even if they deny your claim, it still gets tracked as somebody who wanted to use it,” Bourestom noted. “All of that helps us to build a case with payors that this is something the patients want and the patients should have access to.”
For information on DigniCap Scalp Cooling System or to contact a clinical expert, visit www.dignicap.com.
“Cancer is hard enough. To have to lose your hair and deal with that and deal with the uncertainty of what you’re going to look like when you wake up tomorrow morning, that’s just a really hard thing,” Bourestom concluded. “Our hope is that patients don’t have to deal with that. We want to give them an option to do scalp cooling, minimize hair loss and have some sense of privacy and control during their treatment.”