Cooling caps for women of color

Cooling caps have shown to be effective at preventing hair loss during chemotherapy but they have not had as much success for women of color.

A new clinical trial in New York City is hoping to change that.

Westchester County grandmother Altagrace Pelissier, 58, has a lot to live for but was diagnosed in June with breast cancer.

She underwent grueling rounds of chemotherapy.  The IV treatment is used to kill cancer cells but it can also destroy hair follicles causing hair to fall out.

Pelissier agreed to be part of a clinical trial specifically for women of color at Montefiore Einstein Cancer Center.

Doctor Beth McLellan is the Director of Supportive Oncodermatology at Montefiore Einstein Cancer Center.

She's leading this clinical trial.

"Scalp cooling has been around for a long time but prior research has left out diverse patient populations," McLellan says. "Our study aims to prove scalp cooling can be used in women with various hair types. We know that hair loss plays a huge psychological impact on all people especially women."

She says some women decline to do chemotherapy altogether just to save their hair.  She says that is something that can be very dangerous and it can even be deadly to forego treatment.

"A lot of our patients are trying to work raise their family go about their normal routines while they are getting their treatment," McLellan says.  "Hair loss really labels them a patient to the outside world."

Doctors place a cold cap on the patient's head before and after chemo. The idea is by reducing blood flow to the scalp the cap prevents the chemotherapy drugs from destroying the hair follicles.

The process can take up to six hours.

Altagrace made it through and she still has her hair. The next step in her treatment is surgery.

She says she will face it just like the clinical trial, with strength and the support of her family.