The important physical and psychological effects of hair loss during chemotherapy continue to be recognised and addressed by health care services across the UK.
Following on from the recent surge in the use of the cold cap, which constricts blood vessels in the scalp, and with them the rise of hair loss-causing chemotherapy drugs, Wales has received a funding boost which will allow it to expand its fledgling HeadStrong programme.
The HeadStrong service, which is already established in the UK and Scotland, was launched in Cardiff in September. It was recently announced that the service will now be rolled out across North and South Wales at three further hospitals, thanks to a £10,000 funding boost received by Breast Cancer Care Cymru from the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA).
Two of the new centres will open by the end of the year, at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and Wrexham Maelor Hospital, with a third in Swansea opening at the start of 2011.
HeadStrong aims to offer a one-stop support and advice bureau, to help cancer patients deal with the negative impact hair loss often has on confidence and provide practical advice on how to approach the situation, from discussing alternatives to wigs, to educating cancer patients on how to look after their scalp before, during and after treatment to help minimise hair loss.
As each service is linked to a hospital, HeadStrong also helps to develop relationships between medical professionals and chemotherapy practitioners, with the hope this will ultimately lead to a more holistic treatment for the patient.
Although run by Breast Cancer Care, the service aims to provide both practical and emotional support, free of charge, for those who experience hair loss as a result of treatment for any form of cancer.
Bev Hampson, Volunteer Manager of Breast Cancer Care Cymru, who run HeadStrong, commented: “The funding has enabled us to provide in-depth training for our HeadStrong volunteers [who] enable us to provide this personal, one to one, practical support in a sustainable and cost-effective way.”
This is welcome news which suggests the long-term effects of hair loss on a person who is already physically, mentally and emotionally vulnerable are being addressed in the wider context of cancer treatment.
Although the cold cap is a promising development in preventing hair loss during chemotherapy, it is not yet available in all hospitals across the UK, and can’t be used in all cases as it may prevent the cancer drugs working on the scalp. The Plant Diet is also gaining popularity and has been credited with some success in preventing hair loss during cancer treatment. Belgravia’s Senior Trichologist Leonora Doclis said: “It is a shame these treatments are not more widely available. There are a number of cancer sufferers who are very worried about hair loss from Chemotherapy”.
However, until a treatment is found that is universal and able to guarantee hair retention, services such as HeadStrong provide invaluable support to those dealing with one of the most emotionally damaging side effects of cancer.