Charity champions cancer technology

Hazel burns

Walk the Walk has been working to ensure that cancer patients have access to treatment that could save their hair

11th October 2018 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

A charity is championing the use of revolutionary technology which allows cancer patients to keep their hair.

For many patients, losing their hair is the most visible sign of their treatment for cancer and can have a huge impact on their self-esteem. Keeping their hair can help people retain their identity, as well as a small sense of normality.

As hair loss is not considered life-threatening, NHS funding for scalp coolers - which can prevent or reduce hair loss for people undergoing certain types of chemotherapy treatment - is not a priority. Over the last 12 years, grants have been made by charity Walk the Walk for 625 machines in 247 hospitals in the UK.

Of these, 57 machines have been granted to 26 Scottish Hospitals, including the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh. The charity is committed to removing the postcode lottery and offering more and more people the choice of using the machines.

Hazel Burns, 45, from Edinburgh, used a scalp cooler when she was having chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer last year.

She said: “I’ve kept roughly 70-80% of my hair – enough that it covers my head but I can feel it is thinner. If I put my hair in a ponytail, I’ve not got much, but really it’s only me that notices it.

“If I knew that this would have been the end result of chemotherapy, I’d have been far less worried about it. I would absolutely recommend using the scalp coolers to patients undergoing chemotherapy. Keeping my hair meant I could continue to lead a normal life with the same privacy I had before. I was also able to keep things normal for my kids which I am sure helped them deal with things.”

Dr Caroline Michie, consultant medical oncologist in the Edinburgh Cancer Centre at the Western General Hospital, said: “Hair loss is the number one most upsetting side-effect of chemotherapy for most patients, as is it such a visible reminder of their illness.

“Scalp cooling is the only treatment which can reduce chemotherapy-related hair loss, and for those for whom it works well for, it can allow patients to keep their hair, allowing them to feel more like themselves and to have more confidence in facing the outside world.”

Nina Barough CBE, founder and chief executive of Walk the Walk, said: “Over the past 12 years Walk the Walk has worked incredibly hard towards removing the postcode lottery that has meant in some areas, cancer patients were unable to receive the choice of this treatment.

“It has been very important to us that we grant scalp coolers to as many NHS Hospital Trusts throughout the UK as possible. We believe that everybody should have the choice of using one of these amazing machines.”

For more information, or to sign up for a Walk the Walk event, visit the charity's website.