By Crystal O’Gorman
Oncology Specialists of Charlotte is the first and only practice in greater Charlotte to offer DigniCap – an FDA-approved medical technology that prevents hair loss during chemotherapy.
DigniCap is a temperature-controlled, cooling device that prevents hair loss through restricting blood flow to the scalp and thus, significantly reducing a substantial amount of chemotherapy drugs from reaching hair cells. By essentially numbing the scalp with a freezing gel, it blocks blood flow and slows down the blood’s ability to course those drugs through the scalp and damage hair follicles.
Other treatment methods are available, but this practice chose DigniCap because of the proven results. It was cleared by the FDA in 2015 after a clinical study resulted in over 66 percent of patients losing less than half their hair.
Dr. Dipika Misra, of Oncology Specialists of Charlotte, said hair loss is a big issue for women undergoing chemotherapy.
“Hair loss for a woman can often be one of the most difficult aspects,” she said. “We chose DigniCap because of the convenience for the patients and it seemed to have the most data for success at that time.”
Misra said 10 patients have used DigniCap at their practice so far, and they’ve had a 90-percent success rate of minimal hair loss.
Christina Repass, of SouthPark, was the first patient at their practice to use the medical device.
Repass found a lump in her breast during a self-exam and was diagnosed with breast cancer in February.
“I was devastated and in complete shock… it came completely out of the blue,” Repass said. “I was the first woman in my family to have cancer.”
She was referred to Oncology Specialists of Charlotte to receive chemotherapy treatment before undergoing a bilateral mastectomy at the end of this month. Repass went through chemotherapy from March 1 through July 13. During every treatment, she used DigniCap and was able to experience minimal hair loss.
Repass said she understood the toxic nature of chemo would inevitably cause hair loss and when Misra offered DigniCap as an option, she was willing to give it a shot.
“I knew it wasn’t a guarantee – I even bought a wig, just in case – but if I could help it, I didn’t want cancer to rule my life,” she said. “I didn’t want to go to the grocery store and talk about cancer – you can’t hide cancer with hair loss.”
While initially skeptical, she was happy with the results. She noticed some hair loss after her first two treatments of chemotherapy, but overall, Repass said she only lost about 20 percent of her hair.
Repass said the worst part of using DigniCap was that it’s extremely uncomfortable. During all 10 treatments, she wore a fitted silicone cap underneath a synthetic rubber cap that was held in place by a tight chin strap. She said the chin strap dug into her chin and made it hard for her to talk.
Clinical Nurse Manager Valarie Shepherd explained how the silicone cap holds spiraling coils filled with gel that is pulsed through the cap by a hose attached to a cooling unit.
The silicone cap also has temperature sensors within it that ensure the scalp remains cold, but never falls below 32 degrees.
Shepherd said they chose this device because it keeps a consistent temperature, which results in continuous reduced blood flow to the scalp. She said securing the device tightly around the scalp is necessary to contain a consistent temperature, too.
Repass had to wear the device for over five hours during every treatment: 30-40 minutes to precool, two to three hours during chemotherapy and two to three hours afterward. Despite the discomfort, she was happy with the end results.
“Cancer doesn’t give you a lot of choices,” she said. “But for me, DigniCap was the right choice. It gave me the control over something that I needed.”
DigniCap is not covered by insurance and Misra said the out-of-pocket price is approximately $400 per seating. To find out more about how DigniCap works, visit at https://dignicap.com/.