“Hi, Heather? This is the clinical trial coordinator from UCSF. Is this a good time?”
I had been expecting this call. I’m a big believer in academic medicine and always sign up for clinical trials if I’m eligible. I am amazed to get this call only 24 hours after my first appointment with the medical oncologist.
“I want to talk to you about the DignicCap trial,” she says.
“I’m all for keeping my hair during chemotherapy,” I say. “So what can I do for you?”
“I want to explain how it works. The cap comes in several sizes. We’ll fit you for the right one when you come in for your chemo education appointment. There’s an inner cap just to keep it sanitary, then a silicone cap that goes over it. A neoprene cap fits over that. There are lots of channels in the silicone cap, and cooled liquid flows through them. We slowly bring the temperature down from room temperature to about 5 degrees Celcius.”
“What the thought behind it?” I ask. “Does it slow down the circulation in your scalp so that fewer chemo drugs make it to your scalp?”
“Exactly,” the coordinator says.
Amazing how something so simple can make such a big difference. Apparently, the Swedish company “Dignitana” has used their device on thousands of patients in Europe and Japan. This clinical trial is supposed to clear the way for the device in the US. In European trials, eight out of ten people who used the DigniCap kept their hair.
“Sounds pretty cold,” I say. Actually it sounds like sticking my head in Lake Tahoe for six or seven hours.
“It is cold,” the coordinator says. “Patients say the most uncomfortable part is when the temperature gets down to 10 degrees Celcius. You can get a burning sensation or a headache. But then, the body adapts and it’s usually well-tolerated.”
Expect an “ouch” when any health care professional starts talking about things that are “well-tolerated.” But I’m game. Better cold for a few hours with several courses of chemo, than cold with no hair for several months.