New device helps cancer patients prevent hair loss

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

By: Tim Didion


It’s been four years since Rebecca Yarnold survived a harrowing fight with breast cancer. And even during chemotherapy, she kept her spirits up and shield her young son from the anxiety, in part by keeping her hair.

“I was able to function, and because I had my hair it didn’t scare him,” Yarnold said.

Yarnold avoided the hair loss common to chemotherapy by using a cold cap. The FDA just approved a new, high-tech version called the DigniCap by Dignitana.

The cap chills the scalp, preventing chemotherapy drugs from reaching the capillaries and killing the hair follicles.

Doctors at UCSF helped spearhead the clinical trial. “The goal from the very beginning has been to take this device and get it to be as accessible and as available to as many people as possible,” Dignitana and UCSF consultant Bethany Hornthal said.

But there’s a problem. The technology is so new, many insurance plans don’t cover it yet, which is why supporters are turning to the hair care industry for help. “I think a lot of times people are regarded as being different after they do lose their hair and it does have an effect,” professional stylist Andrew Todd said.

Todd is principal owner of diPietro Todd Salons in the Bay Area. To help subsidize treatments for lower income women, his group has agreed to contribute one-percent of retail sales on hair care products to a special cold cap fund. “We don’t want it to be a question of only rich people can keep their hair, we want everybody to be able to keep their hair,” Todd said.

Organizers received a major grant from the Lazlo Tauber Family Foundation and are also hoping to take the movement nationwide, possibly with the help of major hair product companies.

And with her own chemotherapy battle behind her, Yarnold is enjoying being a mom and having her normal life back. “I am a survivor and they used the word cured. I will believe,” Yarnold said.

Low tech versions of the cold caps, which use dry ice, rent for a little over $500 a month. Dignitana, which is supporting the cold cap fund, expects their pricing to be competitive once the Dignicap machines become widely available.