Scalp cooling is a safe and effective manner of limiting or even preventing hair loss in certain types of chemotherapy. The scalp is cooled briefly before, during and after the treatment with a cap which is connected to a cooling device. This narrows the blood vessels and stops the hair roots from being damaged by the chemotherapy.
Hand-foot cooling works in a similar way. Cooling of the hands and feet reduces the blood flow and reduces the local effects of the chemotherapy. Some treatments damage the nails or the nerves in fingers or toes. As a result people sometimes continue to suffer from tingling or numbness long after their treatment. Hand-foot cooling used to be done with ice mittens, but nowadays hiliotherapy devices provide a constant and more comfortable cooling. UZ Leuven research has shown that these devices reduce side effects such as nail toxicity and damage to the nerve endings damage.
Free of charge
Various Belgian hospitals provide scalp cooling and hand-foot cooling free of charge, but the treatments are not yet available everywhere. In places where cooling is on offer, the devices are usually bought with the support of a fund or a donation. On behalf of the care sector and with the support of a number of other hospitals, Think Pink en UZ Leuven have requested NIHDI to invest in the accessibility of scalp cooling and hand-foot cooling with hilotherapy. And successfully so: as of 1 Januari 2023 the costs are being reimbursed.
Reimbursement allows us to continue to provide scalp cooling and hand-foot cooling in treatments where they have a proven effect.Annemarie Coolbrandt, oncology nursing specialist
Annemarie Coolbrandt, oncology nursing specialist at UZ Leuven: “We have always thought it was important to provide scalp cooling and hand-foot cooling for patients free of charge, but both the devices and the equipment are quite expensive, the application takes extra time for the nurses and results in more planning time. Reimbursement will allow us to continue providing scalp cooling and hand-foot cooling for treatments with a proven effect for these side effects.”
The importance of supporting care
Reimbursement of supporting care – care aimed at the patient's quality of life - is not self-evident, even though this type of care has a positive impact on the psychosocial wellbeing and functioning of cancer patients.
Annemarie Coolbrandt: “For some treatment, scalp cooling can reduce hair loss, which has a tremendous mental and social impact for many patients. And if we can limit nerve damage with hilitherapy, people can better continue their daily activities and resume work more easily. Because of the importance of the patient's quality of life, scalp cooling and hand-foot cooling are very much a part of some oncological treatments. It's good that the government reinforces this with a reimbursement.”
Watch the report on VTM (in Dutch).