Cancer patient brings hair loss treatment to NI

Image caption, Emma Hassan pictured with the scalp cooling system

The prospect of hair loss can be one of the most harrowing elements of dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

But Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry has now introduced 12 scalp cooler machines which can reduce or even prevent hair loss in patients receiving chemotherapy treatment.

The cooler works by pumping a liquid coolant around a silicone cap which the patient wears before, during and after each treatment session.

Emma Hassan was 29 when she was diagnosed with cancer. She found about the scalp cooler but it wasn't available in Northern Ireland.

With the help of a charity Emma was able to secure scalp coolers not only for her own treatment but for others as well.

"Being able to go out and face the world knowing that I didn't look like a sick cancer patient, but a survivor, helped me.

"Especially being a woman, and a young woman your hair represents your femininity and your identity, it's a lot more than just a physical feature.

'Postcode lottery'

"I just thought if this can make my journey easier I wanted to use it, not only that but to bring the opportunity for everyone to use it if they wanted to.

"I have to say being able to retain my hair was instrumental during my treatment and recovery."

Claire Beare from breast cancer charity Walk the Walk said bringing the scalp cooler to Northern Ireland highlighted the postcode lottery of treatments.

"What we want to do is make this treatment available to anyone that wants it, so when Emma contacted us and said it wasn't available in Northern Ireland we arranged for it to happen.

"We feel that anyone who wants the treatment should be entitled to have it," Ms Beare added.

The cooling cap works by reducing the blood flow and chemotherapy agent to hair follicles.

Una Cardin, who is in charge of chemotherapy treatment at Altnagelvin Hospital, said the scalp cooler is not suitable for all cancer patients.

"It really depends on the type of cancer you have and the type of treatment you are receiving.

"So when a patient comes to the clinic and their treatment options are discussed that's when the scalp cooler is offered to the patient, if it will benefit them and if it is safe for them to use."

The 12 scalp coolers at Altnagelvin Hospital are available for patients in Northern Ireland for the first time.

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