A healthcare support worker, who supports cancer patients throughout their chemotherapy journeys, has spoken out about the benefits of scalp cooling and what it means to the people who use it.
For the past 13 years, Pam Fitzpatrick has worked at the chemotherapy day area at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. Her role involves explaining what scalp cooling is (a process that helps people retain their hair during chemotherapy) how it works and managing patients who are using the cool cap throughout their treatment. Before embarking on a nursing career, Pam used to be a hairdresser, which has given her an insight into why people find chemotherapy induced hair loss so traumatic.
Pam said: “Hairdressing has given me that foundation to understand the importance of hair and body image to people, especially when they are undergoing chemotherapy. It has also given me an acute awareness of the fear and distress that the thought of hair loss can cause at what is already a very difficult time in their lives."
Pam explains that although scalp cooling is readily available across the UK, there is an inconsistency in people’s awareness and understanding of it. She hopes by sharing her experience in the run up to UKONS (The UK Oncology Nurses Society - Annual Conference, which focuses on 'the changing face of cancer care'), more people will become aware of what scalp cooling treatment is.
“Myself and my colleagues all feel it is extremely important that patients are provided with scalp cooling information and are able to make an informed choice as to whether they want to use it or not. Over the years, there have been great improvements in the technology of the machines and more research, which has led to an improved patient experience and an increase in its use.”
Scalp cooling provides the only real alternative to chemotherapy induced hair loss, resulting in a high level of retention or even complete hair preservation, thus improving patients’ self-confidence and creating positive attitudes towards treatment.
The Paxman Scalp Cooling System is the world-leading hair loss prevention system for chemotherapy patients. It has been used by over 100,000 patients in 32 countries and is responsible for helping patients to keep their hair and retain a feeling of normality during chemotherapy. The cap is made from lightweight, silicone tubing, which feels soft and flexible, moulding to the patient’s head to provide a snug, yet comfortable fit during treatment.
The cooling cap works by lowering scalp temperature before, during and after the administration of chemotherapy. Liquid coolant passes through the cap extracting heat from the patient's scalp, ensuring the scalp remains at an even, constant temperature to minimise hair loss.
Pam explains that most people tolerate the cold cap reasonably well and the results are mostly very successful. She explains that some patients will experience hair thinning whilst using the cold cap, however it means they can still present themselves as visually ‘normal’ in their everyday lives.
She added: “People tell me that they want to keep their hair for their children and it helps them get through the cancer journey. I think most importantly though, keeping their hair means they don’t have to tell everyone they have cancer and are undergoing chemotherapy. Being able to retain their hair means their body image is preserved and they can retain some sense of normality. Essentially, it goes a long way in helping them cope with their treatment.”