Improving the chemotherapy experience
Hair loss is often one of the most distressing side effects of chemotherapy. Wearing a cold cap during treatment may significantly reduce the problem, but it can be uncomfortable and means patients have to spend longer at the hospital.
Thanks to a generous charitable donation, patients undergoing chemotherapy at the Chartwell Unit at Princess Royal University Hospital now have access to state-of-the-art scalp-cooling machines, which ensure a far better experience and outcome for patients.
‘We’d had the old machines for nine years, but they didn’t offer the best patient experience,’ explains Catherine McGarry, Matron for Oncology. ‘For example, they required very low temperatures to become effective, which meant some patients simply weren’t able to tolerate them. They also had intrusively loud alarms, causing unnecessary anxiety. And the caps didn’t always fit properly, which reduced their effectiveness.’
A better fit
The solution came in the form of three Paxman Orbis 2 scalp-cooling machines, which were funded by the South East London Breast Cancer Trust, a charity founded by former patients.
‘It’s made a big difference,’ says Catherine. ‘The newer cold caps fit much better, while the machines operate at three degrees higher than the old ones, which means more people can tolerate them. And because they don’t take so long to reach the required temperature, our patients don’t have to stay here so long. They also have a discreet alarm system, which just notifies staff without disturbing anyone else.’
Minimising hair loss caused by chemotherapy
So how exactly does scalp-cooling work? Chemotherapy fights cancer by targeting all rapidly dividing cells in the body. But because hair is the second fastest dividing cell, growing hair follicles come under attack from many chemotherapy drugs – meaning hair may start to fall out approximately two weeks after treatment starts. Scalp-cooling reduces blood flow to hair follicles by up to 40%, resulting in less of the drug reaching this area, too, and so prevents or minimises hair loss.
‘Being able to offer scalp-cooling to our patients means we can help them to regain some control and maintain their privacy while encouraging a positive attitude towards cancer treatment overall,’ Catherine says. ‘It’s so important to keep up with advances in technology. It means people don’t have to travel far and can have the very best treatment closer to home.’
Catherine McGarry, Matron for Oncology with one of the new laptops
Reduced waiting times
But that’s not the only way donations have helped improve the patient experience. Catherine has also been able to buy some much-needed extra computer equipment for the unit: two PCs and one laptop.
‘Each patient’s chemotherapy regime needs to be carefully checked and documented before and during treatment,’ Catherine explains. We simply didn’t have enough computers to do this efficiently, which resulted in increased waiting times and added stress for patients.
‘Anything we can do to reduce the amount of time our patients spend here – while ensuring they receive the best treatment quickly and safely – is of enormous value.’
Lead image: Staff show how the scalp-cooling machine works