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UCLA clinical trial focused on hair loss prevention with breast cancer therapy

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A diagnosis of cancer is devastating and the treatment, including surgery, radiation therapy, and or chemotherapy is often extremely stressful with unpleasant side-effects. One side-effect is particularly troublesome to women: hair loss from chemotherapy. On March 5, researchers at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center announced that they have begun a clinical trial on a new device that promises to reduce hair loss of women receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer. To participate in the trial, women must be at least 18 years old and have a documented diagnosis of Stage I or Stage II breast cancer; in addition, they must plan to complete chemotherapy within six months of using standard chemotherapy regimens specified by the trial protocol.

The device, termed the DigniCap® System, works by cooling the scalp. “The success of the DigniCap System could give us a tool that improves quality of life for breast cancer patients during the worst part of their treatment; thus, could improve the overall cancer treatment experience,” explained Dr. Sara Hurvitz, assistant clinical professor of hematology/oncology and director of the breast cancer program. The device consists of a silicone cap (rubber similar to a bathing cap), which fits snugly on the woman’s head; covering that cap is an outer neoprene cap (the material wetsuits are made from), which insulates and secures the silicone cap. Both caps are connected to a cooling and control unit, which circulates a special coolant throughout the inner cap to consistently lower the temperature of the woman’s scalp to just above freezing. To minimize discomfort, the cooling is done gradually.

The device is worn when chemotherapy drugs are administered. When the scalp temperature is lowered, the blood vessels around the roots of the hair contract (shrink). The contraction reduces the blood flow to the hair follicles; thus, less of the drug reaches them. Normally the drug would damage the follicles and cause the hair to fall out. The reduced blood flow from the scalp cooling reduces the amount of drug that reaches the follicle; therefore, reducing or eliminating damage to the hair follicle and preserving the patient’s hair. “Clinical trial data from Europe and Asia has shown that eight of ten women who used this system were able to retain their hair during breast cancer chemotherapy,” explained Dr. Hurvitz. She added, “Now that the FDA has approved it for trials in the United States we have high hopes for helping patients deal with the mental and emotional strain that comes with our treatment of their breast cancer.”

To participate in the trial, contact the UCLA Clinical Trials Hotline at (888) 798-0719.

UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center has more than 240 researchers and clinicians engaged in disease research, prevention, detection, control, treatment and education. One of the nation's largest comprehensive cancer centers, the Jonsson center is dedicated to promoting research and translating basic science into leading-edge clinical studies. In July 2013, the Jonsson Cancer Center was named among the top 12 cancer centers nationwide by U.S. News & World Report, a ranking it has held for 14 consecutive years. For more information on the Jonsson Cancer Center, visit its website at http://www.cancer.ucla.edu.

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