Why patients at this cancer treatment center in Turlock may not lose their hair

Hair loss is one of the unfortunate side effects of cancer treatment.

But the cancer treatment service at Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock has embraced a technology to reduce visible hair loss for chemotherapy patients.

Emanuel Cancer Center celebrated the launch of a scalp cooling system, called DigniCap, at a special event Friday attended by hospital leaders, employees and members of the Bill and Elsie Ahlem Cancer Endowment. The Ahlem Endowment wanted to bring the option to patients at the Emanuel Cancer Center on East Tuolumne Road.

Christie Marriott, who used the system during her cancer treatments, said she didn’t need to cope with the emotions of hair loss as she battled cancer.

“I did not lose my hair,” Marriott said. “I did experience thinning of the eyebrows. My nasal hairs were gone, but I did not lose the hair on my scalp. ... I am so thrilled this is here for (Emanuel patients).”

As a professional in the banking industry, Marriott said, it was important for her to maintain a healthy appearance during her treatment.

Dr. Murali Naidu, chief executive officer of Emanuel Medical Center, said 65% of cancer patients experience hair loss caused by treatment processes. Hair loss is almost a certainty with certain cancer treatments.

Naidu said that cooling the scalp before chemotherapy has been shown in studies to reduce alopecia, or hair loss, by more than 65%.

The DigniCap system consists of a computerized cooling unit, attached to a cap that fits over the patient’s head. The scalp cooling system is managed through a touchscreen display.

The system regulates the temperature of coolant that circulates through the channels in the cooling cap.

According to Emanuel Cancer Center, the cooler temperature results in less blood flow to the scalp, so the hair cells are exposed to less chemotherapy. As a result, the patient’s hair is more likely to survive the cancer therapy.

The FDA approved the DigniCap system for women with breast cancer seven years ago. A second approval in 2017 authorized the system for people with solid tumors.

The Bill and Elsie Ahlem Cancer Endowment approached the leadership of Emanuel Medical Center about adopting the system. Several months ago, the oncology services at Memorial Medical Center in Modesto began offering the DigniCap cooling system for patients wanting to reduce hair loss, a Sutter Health spokesperson said.

Krista Deans, a spokeswoman for Emanuel Medical Center, said the Endowment is covering the rental cost for the scalp-cooling equipment in Turlock. She said the cooling caps worn by patients are purchased by the Ahlem Endowment. There is no cost to the patient.

Jim Ahlem, spokesperson for the endowment, said at Friday’s event the group thought about all the women with breast cancer who have dealt with the additional stress of losing their hair.

“It just adds more layers of stress on top of it,” Ahlem said. “Anything we can do to prevent that, we felt was worthwhile.”