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Lack of Scalp Cooling for Chemotherapy Hair Loss in Northern Ireland


A well-known hair loss prevention method used during certain types of chemotherapy is not being offered to patients at hospitals in Northern Ireland, according to reports.

An article on the BBC news website tells the story of Claire McQuillan, a 42-year-old mum from Belfast who wanted to avoid losing her hair during chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer and inquired about the possibility of using a device called a cold cap.

Unfortunately, Mrs McQuillan found that cold cap treatment was not available at the Ulster Hospital where she was scheduled to undergo chemotherapy, and upon deeper investigation it emerged that cold caps are not available during cancer treatment in Northern Ireland at all – even though they are on offer in more than 250 clinics elsewhere in the UK.

Chemotherapy Hair LossKeep cancer drugs at bay

Cold caps work by cooling the scalp before, during and after chemotherapy treatment and by doing so they are said to be able to keep the bulk of the cancer-fighting drugs at bay. This reduces the chance of the drugs inadvertently attacking and damaging the hair follicles, which is what causes people to lose their hair during chemotherapy.

British firm Paxman make one of the best-known and most widely-used cold caps in the UK, and claim a success rate of 89 per cent. Each machine does, however, require a certain amount of physical space and also extra “chair time” – meaning that people who use it are typically at the hospital a little longer than they would otherwise be.

This, according to the BBC, appears to be one of the reasons why cold caps have not been taken up by medical bodies across Northern Ireland. In a statement, the South Eastern Health Trust said that cold caps would have “significant implications” for chair time and that this would impact on the capacity to treat all patients requiring chemotherapy. Cost is said to be an issue, too.

Mrs McQuillan said she was “really upset” when she found out that a cold cap would not be an option for her. She had only recently grown back her hair from a previous round of chemotherapy, and said that “as a woman, you know how important your hair is to you.”

Wigs can be itchy

She told the BBC that after hair loss during her first round of chemotherapy, she wore a wig, which she found uncomfortable. Wigs are a common solution when women lose their hair during cancer treatment, but they are seldom a popular choice as they can be itchy and unpleasant to wear. Bandanas are also common, but they tend to suggest that a woman is concealing hair loss, which is generally an impression that people want to avoid giving.

It is exactly because of such concerns that cold caps are a popular choice when they are deemed suitable for a patient’s chemotherapy regimen. The BBC’s own Victoria Derbyshire used a scalp cooling system during her own breast cancer treatment, and also made a video of herself wearing the cold cap to help others.

The good news is that hair lost during chemotherapy usually grows back within a few months, and those who undergo treatment typically see a full head of hair again within a year or so. Only rarely is this not the case, although the same is not true of radiation therapy which can sadly lead to permanent baldness.

The Belgravia CentreThe Belgravia Centre

The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.

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