'How I kept my hair during chemotherapy': breast cancer patient speaks out after pioneering treatment at Northampton General Hospital

Debbie Charles
Debbie Charles

A woman who was being treated for breast cancer at Northampton General Hospital used a pioneering scalp cooling treatment to keep her hair during chemotherapy.

In July 2016, Debbie Charles, of Greens Norton, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Initially one tumour was discovered, but a MRI scan later confirmed that she had two, both over five centimetres long.

Debbie had to undergo chemotherapy to shrink the tumours before surgery but when she was told she had to have chemotherapy she was mortified at the thought of losing her hair.

“I was absolutely mortified at the thought of losing my hair. I knew I could cope with most things but losing my hair was something else.

“Then I remembered about a TV movie about American actress Ann Jillian who was diagnosed with breast cancer. Ann had used a cold cap during her chemotherapy so I immediately set about researching ‘cold cap' on the internet.”

Hair loss is a well-known side effect of many chemotherapy regimens, with many patients reporting it to be the most traumatic aspect of their treatment.

According to experts, scalp cooling provides the only real alternative to hair loss, resulting in a high level of retention or even complete hair preservation, improving patients’ self-confidence and creating positive attitudes towards treatment.

Debbie started her chemotherapy at Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust and used the Paxman Scalp Cooling System before and during each chemotherapy session. As a result, Debbie kept her hair throughout chemotherapy.

She added: “On the first day of my treatment, the lady in the chemotherapy department that covered all beauty therapy and hair care came to fit my cap. Initially, she wet my hair and put a thin layer of conditioner on. When everything was in place the button was pushed. I could hear a gush coming up the tube that was attached from the machine to the cap. Within seconds I could hear a crackling and instant coldness."

The cooling cap works by lowering scalp temperature before, during and after the administration of chemotherapy. Liquid coolant passes through the cap extracting heat from the patient's scalp, ensuring the scalp remains at an even, constant temperature to minimise hair loss. The cap is made from lightweight, silicone tubing, which feels soft and flexible, moulding to the patient’s head, providing a snug yet comfortable fit during treatment.

Debbie added: “I did lose a little bit of hair at the back of my ears and my neck where the cap did not touch, other than that though I had no bald patches and kept a full covering of hair. I was given a wig following my second chemo session but I never had to wear it.

“Overall though, nobody would have ever known that I’d had six rounds of chemotherapy treatment. It was incredible to keep my hair and meant so much to me. It meant I could retain my femininity.”