A cool head in a crisis '“ all thanks to MoonWalkers

Thousands of women with breast cancer could be spared the devastation of hair loss thanks to a cooling cap worn during chemotherapy that could halve the chance of patients losing their hair.

Nurses at Edinburghs Western General with the new scalp coolers
Nurses at Edinburghs Western General with the new scalp coolers

Scalp cooling systems, which use either a cold gel or a refrigerated pump system to lower the temperature of the head, have been available for years for use during chemotherapy but have never been widely taken up.

Prior to receiving the chemotherapy drug, the scalp cooler (which consists of a lightweight silicone cap connected to a small refrigeration unit) is placed on the head. The machine reduces the temperature of the scalp, creating a restriction in the amount of blood reaching the hair follicles. This protects them from the effects of the drugs and increases the chance of retaining hair.

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Over the last eight years breast cancer charity Walk the Walk, founded by Nina Barough (inset), which organises the MoonWalks in Scotland, has provided over £8.5 million in grants to NHS trusts so all key hospitals will be able to offer the scalp cooling treatment.

The charity currently has 54 scalp cooling machines in 25 hospitals in Scotland.

Donna Mackenzie, a nurse in the Oncology Department at Lorn and Islands Hospital in Oban, works with breast cancer patients delivering scalp cooling treatment to help women who are having chemotherapy.

She said: “We’ve had a scalp cooler at the hospital for about six years and every Thursday we use the equipment. More and more patients are opting to have the treatment, and at the start of last year we received a double scalp cooler from Walk the Walk, so we are able to help more than one patient at a time.

“The newer scalp cooler model is much more comfortable for our patients, as it goes onto their heads warm, and then cools down.

“When I am speaking to patients, they often tell me how worried they are about losing their hair.

“It is not uncommon to hear that they are more worried about this than the cancer itself. Being able to keep their hair makes a big difference to their self-esteem, so the impact of the scalp coolers is huge.”

The machines were developed by Glenn Paxman as a result of his wife losing her hair through chemotherapy and are compatible with most chemotherapy drugs.

Mackenzie added: “Taking part in the MoonWalk events is a great way to raise money for a wonderful charity. It is also really good fun, and a fantastic way to keep fit.

“Working closely with breast cancer patients day in, day out, I can see the life-changing difference the scalp cooling treatment is making, and without Walk the Walk, we simply wouldn’t have the funding to pay for this equipment.”