'Cool caps' are helping cancer patients keep their hair through chemo--for a high price

Scalp cooling is a new therapy that can limit hair loss related to chemotherapy, but the cost and refusal of some insurers to cover it could be prohibitive for some patients. In Massachusetts, neither the state's Medicaid system nor Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts cover scalp cooling.

Scalp cooling is a new therapy that can limit hair loss related to chemotherapy, but the cost and refusal of some insurers to cover it could be prohibitive for some patients. In Massachusetts, neither the state's Medicaid system nor Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts cover scalp cooling. Blue Cross said the scalp-cooling treatments have not been shown to be widely effective. Doctors at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital, however, say there is good evidence that cold caps can prevent hair loss for patients undergoing certain chemotherapy treatments. The two hospitals have rented scalp-cooling machines from a British company. Patients pay the company, Paxman, for a custom-made cooling cap and each treatment session; out-of-pocket expenses are limited to $2,200. Financial aid is available for individuals who cannot afford the cost. While cold caps that work with dry ice can be effective and cost less, they are cumbersome, according to doctors. Some cancer patients do still use this method, which often sees patients bringing coolers of ice into the hospital and having a friend or relative refresh the ice in their cap every 20 minutes. A small study in the <i>Journal of the American Medical Association</i> last year found that one-half of women who used the scalp-cooling machines held on to at least half of their hair, vs. none of the women who did not use them. While a number of the women experienced adverse effects such as chills, dizziness, headaches, and nausea, only 4 of the 182 participants dropped out of the study because the cap was too cold.

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