A SET of specialist scalp coolers that can help prevent cancer patients losing their hair during chemotherapy are to be delivered to hospitals in the Lothians this week.
Eight of the machines will arrive at the Western General Hospital on Thursday and another three will be delivered to St John’s in Livingston, all provided by the Moonwalk charity, Walk the Walk. The equipment has been bought with the proceeds of the MoonWalk Edinburgh, which sees thousands of fundraisers spend the night taking part in a 26-mile walk around the city.
The machines, known as Paxman coolers, cost up to £16,000 each. They are applied to the head before, during and after the administration of chemotherapy and reduce the blood flow to hair follicles, minimising the damage caused to hair by the drugs.
They are generally not provided by the NHS because they are not in themselves a treatment for cancer, only for the side effect of hair loss.
The Western General has previously trialled a similar scalp cooler on a short-term basis, but these are the first to be permanently placed in Lothians hospitals.
Walk the Walk founder and chief executive Nina Barough said: “Scalp cooling isn’t new, it’s been around for some time but what has been used are cooling caps that are kept in a freezer and, and as the body temperature heats up, they warm up and have to be replaced with another one.
“They’re really heavy, really uncomfortable, and vulnerable to nurses being around at the right time to change it. With these coolers, they’re plugged in and constantly on, so we have a 60 to 90 per cent success rate.
“And, whilst [patients] may lose some hair, there’s a great deal of difference between losing some hair and losing all of your hair. They have been able to continue working and not get that beacon of ‘I’ve got cancer’.” The news was welcomed by retired manager of social work, Jan Cochran, 64, who lost her hair when she received chemotherapy at the Western General to treat breast cancer.
Ms Cochran, from the Grange, said she felt lucky she had already retired when the hair loss struck, which meant she didn’t have to face work every day.
She said the provision of scalp coolers would be welcome news for many others who would undergo chemotherapy in future.
“Hair is such an important part of your feminine identity and if you’re having breast surgery and you’re feeling very vulnerable and feeling that loss of femininity, losing your hair is really critical.
“The other thing is that it’s the loss of hair that tells people you’re on chemotherapy. It’s a real social marker and you feel like ‘chemo lady’ rather than having your own personality.”
This year’s Edinburgh Moonwalk will take place on June 9 with the theme, Midnight At the Oasis. For more information, visit www.walkthewalk.org or call 01483-741 430.