An Asset Anytime, a Cool Head Can Prevent Baldness During Chemotherapy, Two Nurses Find
As a remedy for headaches, an ice bag on an aching head is old hat. Now two Arizona nurses in their mid-30s, Katherine Griffith and Judith Dean, have demonstrated that the same principle applies to a far grimmer situation: It can save much of the hair of patients who must undergo chemotherapy. Ninety-five percent of those receiving large doses of cancer-fighting drugs like Adriamycin become bald within six weeks after the therapy begins. At Manhattan's Sloan-Kettering Institute, a major center for the treatment of the disease, doctors report that most patients are apprehensive about chemotherapy because of the prospect of baldness. Some steadfastly refuse the therapy. So when the two nurses adapted seven-year-old research in devising their ice cap, they rightly claimed a "psychological victory" in the war against cancer.
In their two-year study at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center in Tucson, the nurses treated 33 patients, ranging in age from 20 to 77, who suffered from breast, ovarian, uterine and prostate cancer. The experiment ruled out patients with circulating cancer cells, such as leukemia victims. In those instances the hypothermia cap (a fancy name for the ice pack) would have interfered with the drug therapy.
Dean and Griffith placed two 24-by-24-inch plastic bags filled with crushed ice on each patient's head and secured them with elastic bandages five minutes before the anticancer drug was injected. Earmuffs—pads cut from disposable hospital slippers—warded off the chill as the ice lowered the scalp temperature to 72°F. The cold narrowed the blood vessels and inhibited the hair follicles from absorbing the drugs. The cap was left on for 30 minutes after each treatment. "In our study 70 percent of the patients retained more than 50 percent of their hair," Nurse Dean reports, "while 22 percent retained more than 75 percent."
Dean, who was born in Baton Rouge, and Griffith, a native of Des Moines, are continuing their research at the center, lengthening the scalp cooling period to see if patients receiving massive chemotherapy can also be protected. "For these people," Dean explains, "baldness is the final public insult."
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