Keeping a cool head during cancer treatment

Northern Adelaide Cancer Centre patients are benefiting from scalp cooling technology that reduces hair loss associated with chemotherapy.

The system has a small refrigeration unit that circulates a coolant at minus four degrees Celsius through to a specially designed cooling cap.

The cap slows down the patient’s blood flow by cooling the scalp, which restricts the amount of hair loss that most chemotherapy drugs cause.

When Ridgehaven resident Leigh Clifton received the news that she would require chemotherapy to beat a rare form of ovarian cancer, she wasn’t prepared to lose her hair - she had already lost her uterus and part of her bowel to cancer.

So she was relieved when she found out she was the ideal candidate for the cooling cap therapy.

“Losing my hair was yet another fear I had to deal with,” Leigh said. “So the opportunity to access scalp cooling has helped me to cope and so far I’ve had minimal hair loss.”

Head of the Northern Adelaide Local Health Network Medical Oncology Unit Dr Jacqui Adams said, while being diagnosed with cancer was traumatic enough in itself, hair loss was a distressing side effect of treatment.

“Scalp cooling or cold caps are proven to help patients to retain their hair with most chemotherapy regimens, which can boost their self-confidence and help maintain a positive attitude to treatment,” she said.

Leigh epitomises that positive attitude.

She is part way through 24 consecutive weeks of chemotherapy at Northern Adelaide Cancer Centre and has resolved to use the cooling cap each and every session for the best results. She wears the cap for up to six hours depending on the length of her chemo session

“Initially, it’s like brain freeze, but after 15 to 20 minutes, my head is numb and I can’t feel anything,” she said.

Leigh appreciates the support of the staff who are excited to see the cold cap working for her.

“The Cancer Centre is absolutely wonderful – it’s like visiting friends,” Leigh said.

Northern Adelaide Cancer Centre offers a management of a wide range of cancers and includes an inpatient ward, around-the-clock phone support, clinical trials and telemedicine facilities. It administers more than 600 chemotherapy treatments each month.

A $30,000 Commonwealth Bank of Australia grant, received via The Hospital Research Foundation, went towards the purchase of the $45,000 state-of-the-art Paxman scalp cooling system.