Breast cancer is a debilitating disease. It's made all the more devastating for women who lose their hair due to chemotherapy. Fortunately, a new device just cleared by the FDA is providing them with a way to lessen that specific side effect. The DigniCap is a silicon cap that works by cooling a patient's scalp (it's worn 30 minutes before chemotherapy and for another 90 minutes after), a common method used to reduce chemotherapy-induced hair loss and keep cancer-fighting drugs from damaging the hair. While there are other cooling caps on the market, the DigniCap is the first device that's gained FDA clearance, and, as Bethany Hornthal — strategic communications and business development consultant for Dignitana, which manufactures the caps — explains, is a lot less cumbersome than its counterparts. "With manual Penguin Cold Caps [another type of this device], you had to put dry ice in a freezer and cart that into the hospital," Hornthal says. Patients were required to change the cap every 30 minutes, and the infusion center took no responsibility if something went awry. "It was imprecise, inconvenient, and uncomfortable." Other models required patients to find someone to help with taking the cap off and putting it back on. The DigniCap is much less cumbersome to use. It has sensors that monitor and maintain the temperature the patient requires, without completely freezing their domes in the process. And if you have to move around, you simply unplug the cap from the machine and — as long as you're not gone for more than 10 minutes — it maintains its temperature. According to the FDA release, the product was tested on 122 women with Stage 1 and Stage 2 breast cancer currently undergoing chemotherapy. "More than 66 percent of patients treated with the DigniCap reported losing less than half their hair," the statement explains.
For Charlotte, a DigniCap patient in the U.K. featured in the video above, the fact that she managed to keep her hair throughout treatment was not only important to her as an individual, but also for her as a mother. "I've got young children at home, and whilst they were aware that Mommy wasn't very well and was having some treatments, we didn't have to go through the 'Mommy's lost all her hair' as well," she says. "I've met a number of women who have used DigniCap, and what they say is that they don't have much control over anything during this process — they feel very disempowered by this disease — and here's one thing that they actually get to wrestle control back over," echoes Hornthal. "These women can look in the mirror and say, 'Here I am; it's me.' It's not some altered me that's been affected by this disease.” The device will cost between $1,500 and $3,000 (that's $300 to $600 a treatment, and breast cancer patients typically average four to six treatments, according to Hornthal) for use through cancer treatment centers, and the company plans to list the certified locations on its website once it's available in the early new year. Hornthal also acknowledges that cost is a concern — one that Dignitana hopes to address: "[We want to] find a way for this to be accessible to women who may not have the means to afford it," says Hornthal.