Scalp cooler technology saves the hair of cancer patients in Scotland

Hazel Burns managed to keep her hair during chemotherapy thanks to the use of Scalp Coolers. [Walk the Walk]

WOMEN and men in Scotland are keeping their hair during chemotherapy treatment, thanks to Scalp Coolers provided by cancer charity, Walk the Walk.

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the charity is raising awareness of machines which can prevent or reduce hair loss for people undergoing certain types of chemotherapy treatment.

For many cancer patients, losing their hair is the most visible sign of their treatment and can have an impact on their self-esteem.

Keeping their hair can help people retain their identity, as well as a small sense of normality.

As hair loss is not considered life-threatening, NHS funding for Scalp Coolers is not a priority.

However, over the last twelve years, thanks to Walk the Walk, funding has been raised for 625 machines in 247 hospitals in the UK.

Of these, 57 machines have been granted to 26 Scottish Hospitals, including the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh.

How Scalp Cooling works

• Patients wear a cap attached to a Scalp Cooling Machine before, during and after chemotherapy.
• The temperature of the scalp is lowered, therefore reducing blood flow to the hair follicles.
• This protects the follicles from the effects of the concentrated chemotherapy drugs which are carried in the blood stream
• This means that damage to the hair can be prevented, or at least minimised
• Scalp Cooling can be used by patients undergoing certain types of chemotherapy.

Hazel Burns, 45, from Edinburgh, used a Scalp Cooler when she was having chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer last year. She said: “I’ve kept roughly 70-80% of my hair – enough that it covers my head but I can feel it is thinner.

“If I put my hair in a ponytail, I’ve not got much, but really its only me that notices it. If I knew that this would have been the end result of chemotherapy, I’d have been far less worried about it.

“Keeping my hair meant I could continue to lead a normal life with the same privacy I had before. I was also able to keep things normal for my kids which I am sure helped them deal with things.”

Although, medically, Scalp Coolers do nothing to assist in the curing of cancer, doctors believe they make a significant impact to the well-being of patients, in an already extremely traumatic time.

Dr Caroline Michie, Consultant Medical Oncologist in the Edinburgh Cancer Centre at the Western General Hospital said: “Scalp cooling is the only treatment which can reduce chemotherapy-related hair loss, and for those for whom it works well for, it can allow patients to keep their hair, allowing them to feel more like themselves and to have more confidence in facing the outside world.

“Even just having the possibility of a reduction in the risk of hair loss can help psychologically in the early stages of diagnosis when patients are coming to terms with what might lie ahead.”

Walk the Walk is best known for its famous MoonWalks, when walkers take on marathon challenges in Edinburgh, London and Iceland at Midnight wearing brightly decorated bras.

Nina Barough CBE, Founder and Chief Executive of Walk the Walk said: “Losing your hair whilst having chemotherapy, is often the final straw for many cancer patients and can be completely debilitating.

“Over the past 12 years Walk the Walk has worked incredibly hard towards removing the postcode lottery that has meant in some areas, cancer patients were unable to receive the choice of this treatment.

“It has been very important to us that we grant Scalp Coolers to as many NHS Hospital Trusts throughout the U.K. as possible.”