Patients no longer need to lose their hair from chemotherapy, but insurers don’t always pay for it.
New treatments are now available to stop hair loss as a chemotherapy side effect, but many cancer insurance policies are not covering it.
Oncologists feel that, especially for women, this is an important technique to ensure people get well.
“Several patients have told me it’s one of the worst side effects of their treatment. It can affect them really badly psychosocially. Some patients have even refused lifesaving chemotherapy because they don’t want to face losing their hair,” said Saranya Chumsri, M.D, a Mayo Clinic Cancer Center oncologist, as quoted by Forbes.
Hair loss is easily the most recognized side effect of undergoing chemotherapy cancer treatment. Many patients assume that this part of the experience is inevitable. However, new techniques, known as hair cooling, are effective in avoiding that side effect. Oncologists feel this is important not only for the patient experience as a whole, but also to help patients make the right choices for their own health care.
Many patients will choose alternate treatments for their cancer -–some that are potentially not as effective – because they don’t want to lose their hair. Therefore, by removing that side effect, patients may be more likely to choose the cancer treatment that is better for them on a medical level.
Scalp cooling has been around for a while, but many patients don’t have cancer insurance for it.
There are several forms of scalp cooling, many of which have been available for quite some time. The technique works with a cap worn by the patient that reduces the scalp temperature. One form is a gel-filled cap. To gain access to that cap, a patient rents it from a private company in a set of either four or eight caps. The cap is cooled with dry ice or in a special biomedical freezers which must be local to the user.
The other form of the cap is one hooked up to a cooling machine. This helps to ensure the cap provides a constant temperature throughout the treatment. There are two cap suppliers with FDA clearance: DigniCap and Paxman.
However, the main problem associated with these caps is the cost and the inconsistent cancer insurance coverage. Oncology treatment centers usually rent these caps for about $300 to $400 per set rental. Doctors and advocacy groups are campaigning to improve this situation to not only improve the patient experience, but also increase the chances that a patient will choose the right treatment for their cancer, without changing their decision based on whether or not they will lose their hair.
“Insurance coverage is slowly progressing, but the consensus as to whether to fund the caps is inconsistent. The process is not for everyone, but we want patients to be able to make an informed choice. We hope soon that it will not just be an informed choice, but an affordable choice too,” said Nancy Marshall, a breast cancer survivor as well as the co-founder of The Rapunzel Project. The Rapunzel Project is an advocacy group spreading awareness about scalp cooling technology to ensure cancer patients will improve their opportunity to keep their hair even if they undergo chemo.