Managing the Side Effects of Cancer Treatment
- Victoria’s Secret model Nicole Weider is undergoing chemotherapy for her stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis. She’s navigating the side effects of chemo, including hair loss, by resorting to Cryotherapy, which involves wearing cold caps or special cooling caps before, during, and after each chemotherapy treatment.
- If losing your hair is a concern for you before cancer treatment, know you have options like wigs, hats, wraps, and scarves, among other things, to maintain your self-esteem.
- Scalp cooling devices such as the one Weider uses constrict the blood flow to the scalp; the caps limit the amount of circulating chemotherapy that reaches the hair follicles, protecting them from some of the chemo’s damaging effects.
- Weider sought multiple medical opinions regarding treatment as it spared her from receiving the wrong chemo regimen. Seeking a second or third opinion for your diagnosis and treatment plan is another aspect of advocating for your health and ensuring you get the treatment you need.
“Victoria’s Secret” model Nicole Weider is halfway through chemotherapy for stage 2 breast cancer. She says she’s learned many lessons so far in her journey, including things about chemo, ways to preserve her hair during treatment, and the value of getting a second opinion.
“I’m so thankful I waited for a second opinion because if I didn’t, I would have been on the wrong chemo regimen for fighting triple-negative breast cancer, which I don’t have,” Weider explained on Instagram. Triple-negative breast cancer is usually responsive to chemotherapy.Read More
Her cancer was in stage 2, meaning the tumor was likely bigger than 2cm, and there were some lymph nodes impacted. She’s currently undergoing chemotherapy to treat the cancer.
“In a week and a half, I’m exactly halfway through my chemo regimen. The prayers are all working, but the big test will be to see how much or if the cancer is still in my liver, and I won’t know that until I get after my fourth chemo infusion,” Weider explained.
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RELATED: Managing Chemotherapy Side Effects
Another aspect of chemotherapy is dealing with its grueling side effects. Weider was concerned about the possibility of hair loss during treatment.
“My face looks smushed because the cold capping is so tight on my head, so I can hopefully keep most of my hair by the grace of God,” she said.
Helping Patients Cope with a Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Nicole’s Cold Cap to Preserve Her Hair
Cryotherapy involves wearing cold caps or special cooling caps before, during, and after each chemotherapy treatment.
Scalp-cooling devices have been approved by the FDA recently, first for breast cancer and then several other cancers. That means wearing cold caps or special cooling caps before, during, and after each chemotherapy treatment. The caps, which are tightly fitting and strap-on helmet-style, are filled with a gel coolant that’s chilled to between -15 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Essentially, the caps “cause vasoconstriction, or a narrowing of the blood vessels bringing blood to the scalp,” Dr. Renata Urban, gynecologic oncologist at the University of Washington, explains.
WATCH: What is a scalp-cooling device?
By constricting the blood flow to the scalp, the caps limit the circulating chemotherapy that reaches the hair follicles, protecting them from some of the chemo’s damaging effects.
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.
Dr. Julia Nangia, a medical oncologist at Baylor College of Medicine and a lead author on one of the major studies of the device, says 50% of women were able to keep their hair after four rounds of chemotherapy, and added: “Without the devices, 100% of patients lost their hair.”
There have been some safety questions when it comes to scalp-cooling, but Dr. Nangia says that when given to people with solid tumors (like breast, ovarian, colon, and lung cancer), the devices are safe.
The Value of Getting a Second Opinion
Weider indicated another medical opinion spared her from receiving the wrong chemotherapy treatment. Her experience is one of many reasons you should get multiple opinions regarding big medical treatment decisions.
When you see a doctor for a problem, don’t hesitate to ensure that your questions are fully answered and that you are comfortable with the plan moving forward. From a doctor’s perspective, every problem should have a diagnosis, a treatment, a plan for follow-up, and a plan for what happens next if the treatment doesn’t work.
WATCH: Being your own advocate.
“It’s important for you to actually educate yourself and be your own health care advocate,” colorectal surgeon Dr. Zuri Murrell previously told SurvivorNet.
“You should lead each doctor’s appointment with a plan,” Dr. Murrell adds.
In addition to ensuring you and your doctor align with your diagnosis and potential treatment, seeking other opinions is equally important.
Doctors do not always agree about whether your symptoms merit further testing and whether specific treatment methods work best for you.
Dr. Steven Rosenberg, chief of surgery at the National Cancer Institute and one of America’s most renowned cancer doctors, agrees.
“If I had any advice for you following a cancer diagnosis, it would be, first, to seek out multiple opinions as to the best care because finding a doctor who is up to the latest information is important,” Rosenberg previously told SurvivorNet.
“It’s always important to get other opinions so that you can make the best decisions for yourself in consultation with your care providers,” Dr. Rosenberg continued.
What To Ask Your Doctor
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you may have questions about how to keep your strength through treatment. Here are a few questions to help you begin the conversation with your doctor:
- What treatment will I be receiving?
- What side effects are associated with this treatment?
- Are there steps I can take daily to help minimize these side effects?
- What physical activity routine do you recommend for me during treatment?
- Do you have recommendations for someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy exercise?
- Can you recommend a dietician who can help me with healthy eating tips and weight maintenance?
- I’ve been having trouble sleeping. Do you have any treatment recommendations?