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Scalp cooling system offers cancer patients privacy and dignity
Digni Cap
Emanuel Cancer Center Chaplain Robert Johnson and Emanuel CEO Murali Naidu present a new scalp cooling system sponsored by the Bill and Elsie Ahlem Cancer Endowment to hospital leaders at an event on Friday (Photo courtesy of EMC).

A scalp cooling system, developed to help cancer patients is now available at Turlock’s Emanuel Cancer Center.

On Friday, hospital leaders, employees and endowment members gathered for a presentation on the new equipment, DigniCap, that is sponsored by the Bill and Elsie Ahlem Cancer Endowment.

“When the Bill and Elsie Ahlem Cancer Endowment approached our team about a new treatment that would reduce hair loss during cancer treatment, we jumped at the chance to be a part of that and to offer that to our community,” said Murali Naidu, M.D., CEO of Emanuel Medical Center.

Hair loss is a common side effect of cancer treatment that can make some patients feel self-conscious or uncomfortable. DigniCap offers patients the ability to reduce hair loss from certain chemotherapy treatments.

“On average, 65 percent of people who are undergoing treatment for cancer have hair loss associated with their treatments. For some cancer treatments, it’s as high as 100 percent,” Dr. Naidu explained. “Cooling the scalp prior to chemotherapy has been shown in studies to reduce that hair loss, visible hair loss, by two-thirds. It is a dramatic difference.”

The DigniCap Scalp Cooling System consists of a computerized cooling unit that is managed through a touch screen display and an attached cooling cap. Temperature regulated coolant continuously circulates through specially designed channels in the cooling cap. Reduced temperature results in a decreased blood flow to the scalp area so that less chemotherapy reaches the hair cells. Therefore, hair cells are not exposed to the full dose of chemotherapy and may be able to survive the chemotherapy treatment. As a result, hair is less likely to fall out.

First invented by Swedish oncology nurse Yvonne Olafsson in 1996 and patented in 1998, the idea has been launched and used in many forms since that time. Olafsson was the brains behind the DigniCap, a scalp cooling system which in 2015 became available in the United States, when it received FDA clearance.

“Unfortunately, in terms of awareness we’re trying to educate the whole world, because any of us could get cancer at any time,” Melissa Bourestom, Chief Communications Officer of Dignitana, shared. “Our hope is that by increasing awareness, especially among people who are either in the health care community or among friends and family who might have heard about scalp cooling will say ‘you know I heard there’s this thing that can help you save your hair.’”

In 2017, the FDA expanded the clearance to include men and women with solid tumor cancers undergoing chemotherapy.

The name DigniCap, comes from the root dignitas, which is Latin for dignity.

“Being able to be in your life, doing what you want to be doing. That’s the whole point. To make sure that people can live the life that they want to live,” Dr. Naidu said.

“We thought of all the women who’ve had breast cancer, and on top of that, also losing their hair, it just adds more layers of stress on top of it. Anything we can do to prevent that, we felt was worthwhile,” said Jim Ahlem, spokesperson for the endowment. “Thank you to everyone who is here. Thank you for everything you do for our community.”