Getting a cancer diagnosis is frightening and stressful, and from that moment on, it can occupy your entire life. Treatments and possible surgeries take over day-to-day living, while your family, your job and your body are thrown out of whack. It’s a daily struggle to maintain some semblance of normalcy, which is why losing your hair can be one of the more difficult steps in the process. In the past, having chemo meant definite hair loss, but medical advancements are giving some cancer patients hope of keeping their hair, through scalp cooling.
Scalp-cooling, or cold-capping, has been successfully used in Canada and throughout Europe for decades, and is gaining popularity in the United States. Manual caps like Penguin Caps or Elasto-Gel caps have been available in the U.S. for over 20 years, paving the way for the Food & Drug Administration to clear the first scalp-cooling machine system in 2015.
The cost for cold-capping is significant no matter what system you choose, and although the success rate is high, most insurance companies still consider cold-capping to be an experimental therapy, and therefore do not cover it.
At Scott J, we love and support those close to us who have been affected by cancer. This is why we recently partnered with HairToStay—an organization that helps cancer patients afford the cost of cold capping and supports them through their chemotherapy treatments. We plan to continue this partnership throughout the year to raise funds and awareness for patients who want cold caps.
HOW IT WORKS
The science behind cold-capping is relatively simple. At its most basic, cancer boils down to rapidly dividing cells, and chemotherapy targets those rapidly-dividing cells. Our hair follicles are cells with some of the quickest turnover in our bodies, so the chemo attacks those as well, hence why you have hair loss.
By cold-capping, you’re literally icing your scalp, bringing the temperature of the follicles down enough to put them in a kind of hibernation state, and restricting the blood flow that would carry the chemotherapy drugs to the follicles during therapy. The treatments happen at the infusion center, during chemotherapy appointments, with a pre-cooling time to get the temperature down, and continued cooling throughout the infusions, as well as up to several hours afterward so the blood flow is restricted when the levels are the highest.
For the majority of the past 20 years, the main option has been manual cold-capping, which involves several caps, coolers, hundreds of pounds of dry ice, and switching the caps out every 30 minutes. Thankfully, more and more cancer centers are providing automated cooling services in the U.S., including many NYC locations such as multiple Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centers, Mt. Sinai Health System Hospitals, New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Centers, New York Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Centers, Long Island Jewish Medical Center, and New York University Langone Cancer Center.
With major advances in the medical industry, so come major price tags. Depending on the system each patient has access to, the cost for scalp-cooling can run into the thousands of dollars, and again, is not covered by most insurance plans, leaving many patients unable to afford this treatment. This is where HairToStay comes in. HairToStay is the first and only national nonprofit dedicated to helping patients with financial need get the scalp-cooling treatment.
We’ve made it our ongoing mission at Scott J to raise funds for HairToStay because stylists understand, maybe better than anyone, how important hair is to one’s life and self-image, and how important it is for people to be able to control even one piece of a process where they have little control. Also, stylists are in a great position to have a conversation about hair loss with people who might be facing chemo, as many new patients have never even heard that cold-capping is an option for them.
“Hair stylists engage in personal conversations every day with their guests, and can be a great resource for spreading the word about scalp cooling,” said Scott J owner Scott Buchanan.
Cold Capper @k8syrah and the Paxman scalp cooling system
HOW YOU CAN HELP
“Stylists and their guests represent an important opportunity to both raise awareness, and also to raise funds to ensure that more people have access to this amazing option,” Scott says. “Our guests can donate either through our website or by going to HairToStay.org/salon locating the Scott J social fundraiser.”
HairToStay typically gives their recipients an average of $1,000 to subsidize their scalp-cooling treatments. Kristin, a HairToStay recipient from San Francisco, describes the positive effect that the hair-saving treatment has had on her look—and her outlook. “I look in the mirror and I don’t see cancer. I still see me and I don’t look sick,” she says.
“I own my privacy. I get to go to work, the grocery store, my daughter’s school and have a romantic life while being treated just like everybody else. The grant I received from HairToStay has allowed me to make the best out of a situation that is far from ideal.”