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New 'cold cap' halts hair loss during chemotherapy?

November 7, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
While you might think hair loss would be the least of a cancer patient's worries, doctors will be the first tell you how emotionally devastating it can be, especially for women. There's a new device helping patients keep their hair during the chemotherapy process.

When you're the choreographer, you've got to have the most energy in the room. Looking at 50-year-old Peggy Hickey-Perez, you'd never know she's going through treatment for stage-2 breast cancer.

"I'm an artist and I'm here to do my work and if I'm close with you I'll tell you what I'm going through, but it's not what defines me," said Peggy.

"It's hard enough to have cancer. It's horrible to have cancer. Your hair -- it's taking you dignity and your identity away from you," said Peggy.

She found a magazine article about Penguin Cold Caps: A group of $500-a-month scalp-freezing devices worn an hour before chemotherapy, during and for four hours after.

She showed it to her oncologist, Dr. Edwin Jacobs.

"He absolutely went, 'No, they don't work,'" said Peggy. "I mean, it was, 'No, they don't work.'"

"We'd seen the cap in the past, 25 years ago, 15 years ago, and the results were uniformly disappointing," said Jacobs.

After some research, Jacobs learned how this new cap freezes the hair follicles and prevents the chemotherapy from penetrating the scalp. He decided to let Peggy try it.

"What the cap is doing is working and this was quite an eye-opening experience," said Jacobs.

When Peggy arrives for chemotherapy, she shows up with two ice chests full of the Penguin Cold Caps. They're frozen to 30 degrees below zero, and she has to change them out every 30 minutes.

"But you know, at the end of the day I take the cap off and my hair is still there," said Peggy.

Jacobs says the cap appears to work for 50 to 80 percent of breast-cancer patients undergoing chemo, but it's not recommended for people with lymphomas and leukemias because it may interfere with the treatment.

And always check with your doctor, because some chemos don't affect hair.

Peggy's total rental cost will run about $1,500, and for her the results are priceless.

"I'm not just a cancer patient. I'm still a person," said Peggy.

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