The new machine that helps cancer patients keep hair throughout chemo.

Image via iStock.

For many women diagnosed with cancer, hair loss can be one of the most distressing side effects of having chemotherapy treatment.

New technology is set to change all this. “Scalp cooling”, although widely available in the UK and Europe, is beginning to become more and more common in Australia, and it has an 80 per cent success rate of allowing cancer patients to keep their hair while undergoing treatment.

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After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Nicole Murnane found the scalp-cooling treatment had a hugely positive impact on her self-confidence.

Murnane had her treatment at the Epworth Hospital in Richmond, Melbourne, over a period of three months. During the treatment she wore a gel cap, that had a cooling gel continuously pumped through it.

The cooling gel works by constricting the blood vessels, and reduces the chemotherapy that gets to the hair follicles. (Post continues after gallery.)

“I underestimated the impact of keeping my hair – it was never about the actual hair – it was about the fact I could walk down the street and no one would know that I was having cancer treatment. I could go about my day as normal,” Murnane explains.

“And going back to work, it had a huge impact. I felt that because I looked so similar, it was easier to return.”

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Murnane found that, while it’s positives outweighed the negatives, “scalp cooling” could be quite unpleasant.

“The first twenty minutes are the coldest, it is like a ice pack all over your head. The amount of time you have to wear it for depends on the length of the chemotherapy. You need to wear it before, during and for an hour afterwards,” explains Murnane.

“It feels a little like when you get swimming in the freezing ocean, and you go numb after a while. It is pretty intense but so, so worth it . Some women have a sedative before it to help cope with the feeling.”

The Paxman scalp cooling machine.

Murnane explained that because she was on a shorter regimen of chemotherapy, the scalp-cooling treatment worked well for her. She does know women who had a longer period of chemotherapy, and it wasn't as successful for them.

"The only downside I can think of is that it isn't available to everyone yet, because not all hospitals have it,  and also, your eyebrows and eyelashes aren't saved. But it is really quite amazing." Murnane says.

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Oncologist Doctor Michelle White, told SBS that the results of the treatment have been very positive.  

"We have found 80 per cent of the patients were very satisfied with the results, we saw a third of our patients lose almost no hair and about 60 per cent of patients had moderate hair loss but they remained satisfied." White said.

You can read more about Paxman scalp-cooling treatment here.