Sitting in a chair with three blankets, a hot water bottle and a strange-looking cap connected to a refrigeration unit will be the new norm for Rotorua's breast cancer patients.

It is all part of the recipe to boost self-esteem as today Rotorua Hospital was the first public hospital to receive a scalp cooling system donated by Breast Cancer Foundation NZ.

The idea is that a coolant, which runs through the refrigeration unit, is circulated through specially designed cooling caps, preventing hair loss for women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.

Dr Prashanth Hari Dass (from left), Beth Lang, nurse Amy Fletcher, Phil Woodward, clinical nurse manager Elaine Warner and Shirley Clare. Photo / Leah Tebbutt
Dr Prashanth Hari Dass (from left), Beth Lang, nurse Amy Fletcher, Phil Woodward, clinical nurse manager Elaine Warner and Shirley Clare. Photo / Leah Tebbutt

With the dedication of Lakes District Health Board medical oncologist, Dr Prashanth Hari Dass, the device has finally arrived and Hari Dass hopes it will give significant relief to the stress of chemotherapy.

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"Often the treatments have a huge psychological impact on the patients and we hope with the aid of this machine it will help their emotional wellbeing.

"It can be depressing for a lot of our patients to go through chemotherapy and hair loss on top of that can be very hard."

In six months Hari Dass hoped there would be 20 patients that would benefit from the treatment.

Oncology nurses and Rotorua Breast Cancer Trust, were today given training on how to use the scalp cooling device, better known as Paxman, but trainer Phil Woodward said for some inexplicable reasons it might not work on some patients.

The new treatment will hopefully cause a relief on the emotional wellbeing of each patient. Photo / Supplied
The new treatment will hopefully cause a relief on the emotional wellbeing of each patient. Photo / Supplied

"More than 50 per cent of women conserve their hair and around 70 per cent will retain some or all of their hair and not need a wig."

The device will have its first run when a new breast cancer patient comes in to start their chemotherapy.

Smaller regional areas such as Rotorua sometimes miss out on health funding Breast Cancer Foundation NZ chief executive Evangelia Henderson said but she was "thrilled" to provide this opportunity to patients.

"This kind of service makes an enormous difference to some patients, yet it is unlikely to ever be a priority for government spending.

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"We are talking to several DHBs across New Zealand right now. We hope as many as possible will jump at the chance to offer scalp cooling to their patients, and we look forward to receiving their applications."

In June, the Breast Cancer Foundation NZ announced it had brought 10 scalp cooling systems worth $500,000 for public hospitals around New Zealand.

What is scalp cooling?

Cold caps and scalp cooling systems are tightly fitting, strap-on, helmet-type hats filled with a gel coolant.

Cold caps and scalp cooling systems work by narrowing the blood vessels beneath the skin of the scalp, reducing the amount of chemotherapy medicine that reaches the hair follicles.

The Paxman machine. Photo / Leah Tebbutt
The Paxman machine. Photo / Leah Tebbutt

With less chemotherapy medicine in the follicles, the hair may be less likely to fall out. The cold also decreases the activity of the hair follicles, which slows down cell division and makes the follicles less affected by the chemotherapy medicine.