New machine lets patients keep hair through chemo

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A new device being used in a Melbourne hospital is allowing cancer patients to keep their hair while undergoing treatment, with a success rate of 80 per cent.

When Kim Croker was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, one thing weighed heavily on her mind.

"Immediately you say cancer you think hair loss, you think looking dreadful," she said.

Ms Croker began eight rounds of chemotherapy. Her concern over potential hair loss made her an ideal candidate for a clinical trial underway at Cabrini hospital in Melbourne.

The trial was for a Paxman scalp-cooling machine, which she describes as uncomfortable but not unbearable.

"It's like an icecream headache when it first starts. A bit like an icepack on your head, which is exactly what it is."

Twelve months later, the results are impressive for both hair retention and self-esteem.

"It's the ability to feel normal and to feel like yourself. Only once have I had that 'cancer pity look' because it was someone that knew and obviously I wasn't feeling great that day. They're the sort of things that really make cancer hard to deal with," she said.

From the success of the trial, the hospital now has now purchased four of the cooling machines, completely funded from public donations.

The machines work by reducing blood flow to the hair follicles to minimise damage caused by the chemotherapy. They've been in full operation at Cabrini for six months, treating 150 patients.

Cabrini oncologist Doctor Michelle White said the results have been stunning.

"We have found 80 per cent of the patients were very satisfied with the results, we saw a third of our patients lose almost no hair and about 60 per cent of patients had moderate hair loss but they remained satisfied."

The machine itself does not save lives, however it can remove a barrier to treatments that do.

"Many women and patients diagnosed with cancer, hair loss is one of the most feared complications of chemotherapy and unfortunately in the past I have had patients who have refused chemotherapy because of their concerns of how they'd cope losing all their hair," said Doctor White.

Nurse manager at the Cancer Council Katherine Lane is involved in helping patients deal with hair loss. She said if patients retain a sense of identity and self-esteem it can aid in their recovery.

"It really is if you look good, you do feel better. It might sound cliché but it's the small things that add up over time to help you say it's ok I can do this and I'm still me. I'm not just a cancer patient I'm still me."

And in Kim Croker's case, life is almost back to normal.

"I'm back to me, well almost. I've got to lose a bit of the weight that I put on because you get a bit lazy but I'm feeling good feeling very good, and certainly having hair helps too." 

Source SBS

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