Cold may help Bozeman cancer patient keep her hair

By JODI HAUSEN

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — Wearing a bulky, blue contraption on her head at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital's Cancer Center on Friday, Christy Castronovo jokingly called herself a trendsetter.

Castronovo was referring to the fashion statement she was making with her headgear, but the wrap is actually a new therapy designed to help patients retain their hair during chemotherapy. Castronovo is the first patient at the hospital to wear it and was instrumental in bringing it here.

When her oncologist told her she'd probably lose her hair to chemotherapy, "I lost it," she said.

She'd heard about the treatment from a colleague after she had a double mastectomy and learned she needed chemo to ensure the cancer didn't return.

"I wanted to do this," she said. "My cancer was early stage and they got it out. I'm not really sick, so I didn't want to look sick because I work very hard to stay healthy."

In fact, the 40-year-old financial planner with a wry wit had been training with her husband to do a triathlon when she was diagnosed in May.

"I got my boobs cut off instead of running a triathlon," she said.

Castronovo was receiving her fourth and final chemo treatment Friday when her husband and the couple's friend and trainer, Leah Vogel, demonstrated the process of fitting the "cold cap" to Castronovo's head.

A series of Velcro straps were pulled tightly around Castronovo's head to keep the cap's icy fluids close to her scalp. Similar to ice packs, they need to be changed every 20 to 30 minutes as Castronovo's body heat warms them up.

The idea is to keep the scalp so cold that the poisonous chemicals used to kill cancer cells can't penetrate the follicles and cause hair to fall out.

The therapy is popular in Europe but not widely used in the U.S.

Medical Specialties of California, the company that rents the caps to patients, claims the treatment is "very effective."

Castronovo, who has retained her hair after three treatments, still loses wisps, but that's better than clumps, she said.

The caps require a freezer kept at 20 degrees below zero. Castronovo helped get a freezer for the cancer center through the Rapunzel Project, a nonprofit that donates them to hospitals.

"She pretty much drove the whole bus," said Dr. Jack Hensold, her oncologist.

The cancer center's operations manager, Spencer Green, hopes other patients such as Castronovo can benefit from the therapy.

"Of course fighting cancer has a huge mental component and patients with a positive attitude do better," he said. "There are a lot of factors patients can't control and that's frustrating. This is one thing they can."

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Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com

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