Medibank teams up with Ramsay for chemo patients

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Medibank has teamed up with with a number of private hospitals to support patients undergoing chemotherapy with scalp cooling treatment.

The treatment works to minimise hair loss; a distressing side effect of chemotherapy that can take a toll on a patient’s mental health.

Medibank is offering funding on a trial basis to support its customers with the cost of cooling-cap treatments for patients undergoing chemotherapy at a number of hospitals Australia-wide, including Pindara Private Hospital on the Gold Coast.

“Hair loss is inevitable with most chemotherapy to treat breast cancer," said Pindara oncologist Dr Andrea Tazbirkova.

"It’s a very visible sign of cancer treatment and a constant reminder of the patient's condition. Hair loss – and the fear of it – can often have an emotional and negative impact on the patient’s body image, social life and personal relationships.”

The scalp cooling-cap works by lowering the skin temperature and constricting blood vessels in the scalp. This can limit the rate of hair loss by reducing the amount of chemotherapy medicines reaching the hair follicles.

Patients wear a fitted scalp cooling-cap attached to a portable refrigeration unit. It circulates the cooled liquid around the scalp at low pressure, reducing the scalp temperature by a few degrees and constricting its blood vessels.

The device is fitted about half an hour prior to the start of chemotherapy treatment, during treatment and for a short time after.

Scalp cooling technology has been available in Australia for several years.

“There is now evidence showing scalp cooling during chemotherapy can be a viable treatment, especially for breast cancer patients,” said Dr Tazbirkova.

Medibank is working with Ramsay Health Care (owners of Pindara) nationally on the initiative.

According to Dr Linda Swan, Medibank’s chief medical officer, “Breast cancer affects many Australian women with more than 17,000 new cases diagnosed last year. Medibank already supports our customers with in-hospital treatments, and we also assist with the cost of wigs as part of a patient’s recovery. However, we are pleased to be able to do more. Preventing hair loss removes one of the greatest fears people have when undergoing chemotherapy.”

The cooling-cap does have some potential short-term side effects, including headaches and forehead pain. The treatment can also be ineffective with certain hair and skin types.

“Scalp cooling can be an effective method to reduce hair loss during chemotherapy for breast cancer patients. While some hair loss is unavoidable, scalp cooling may eliminate the need to wear wigs or scarfs. In my experience, patients who haven’t had the trauma of rapid hair loss are more positive and have improved self-esteem,” added Dr Tazbirkova.