Answer Man: A cool head can save hair during chemotherapy

News-DemocratMarch 15, 2014 

Q. I have a friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer and is facing chemotherapy. She thought she heard about a new technique that helps prevent hair loss. Can you tell me anything about this?

-- D.G., of O'Fallon

A. Ever hear someone say "I hope cooler heads prevail" during a heated argument?

In most cases, it's just a figure of speech as people wait for emotion to give way to reason. But in cancer treatment, a cooler head might literally prevail in minimizing one of the dreaded side effects of chemotherapy: hair loss.

Actually, the idea has been around for decades. To prevent those nasty drugs from attacking the hair, doctors use specially designed caps to cool the scalp to near-freezing. By chilling out, patients have the blood vessels in their scalp constricted, thereby reducing blood flow near those hair follicles and, thus, the amount of drug reaching them. Already, these caps are being used in Europe and Canada.

But they are not approved for use in the U.S., because their effectiveness has not been proven. More important, some doctors fear that the cold could prevent the drugs from killing stray cancer cells in the scalp.

Both questions will be examined this summer when researchers in New York, North Carolina and California enroll 110 early-stage breast cancer patients to study the DigniCap. It's a tight-fitting, insulated cap attached to a machine that cools the scalp to 41 degrees while a patient undergoes chemotherapy.

In a 2011 pilot study, most of the 20 patients who tried it kept more than half their hair. Side effects include pain and headaches as the cold sets in, but it's worth it because it solves a problem that goes far beyond mere vanity, one patient said.

"I didn't necessarily want to walk around the grocery store answering questions about my cancer," Miriam Lipton told the Associated Press after using a cap to save most of her hair during her successful treatment. "It wasn't perfect, but it was easier. I felt normal much more quickly."

Already, more U.S. patients are renting the British Penguin Cold Cap for about $450 a month. Overseas studies show such caps can be beneficial, but it's still unclear which patients will benefit the most or even how cold the caps should be. They seem less effective with certain types of chemo and higher doses. Recurring scalp tumors also seem incredibly rare.

If you'd like to learn more, go to www.dignitana.com.

Q. I recently saw an episode of "The Waltons" that showed the actors as they are today. Can I buy that series? Also, can you tell me what the actors are doing now?

-- Irene Eckart, of Waterloo

A. I think what you saw was not a series, but a one-time CBS special in which the Walton clan -- minus John-Boy -- plans a surprise birthday party for Grandma Esther (Ellen Corby) through flashbacks from the TV series.

It was called "A Decade of the Waltons" and it aired May 22, 1980. And as long as you still have a working VCR (I can't find it on DVD), you can buy it for as little as $6 used. Just go to amazon.com and search for the title. If you'd like help, please contact me.

However, let me add this: What you'll get is a look at the actors as they were nearly 35 years ago now. If you'd like something more recent, I might suggest the 2012 PBS special "The Walton Legacy," which boasts interviews with the actors and a look at the people and area on which Earl Hamner Jr. (now 90 and the real John-Boy) based "Spencer's Mountain" and "The Waltons." It's also available through Amazon for as little as $10. And if you want to go whole hog, you can buy all nine seasons and the six movies for $150 or so.

Now, an extremely condensed update on the 14 actors who were in at least 100 episodes of the show:

Richard Thomas (John-Boy), 62, now stars as Frank Gaad on the FX series "The Americans." After conquering alcoholism at 32, Michael Learned (Olivia), now 74, most recently started popping up in soap operas. Kami Cotler (Elizabeth), is 48 and serves as the founding principal of Environmental Charter Middle School in Los Angeles.

David Harper (Jim-Bob), 52, left acting in the mid-80s to become a Los Angeles art dealer and artist. Judy Norton (Mary Ellen), 56, still occasionally acts in L.A. while running a chain of dinner theaters in Canada with her husband. Eric Scott (Ben), 55, left acting a couple of years ago to open the Chase Messengers, a parcel delivery service in Sherman Oaks, Calif. Mary Beth McDonough (Erin), 52, continues her acting career while musician-actor Jon Walmsley (Jason), 58, keeps winding up on both film and CDs.

The other four have said their final good nights -- Will Geer (Grandpa Zebulon, died 1978, age 76); Corby (1999, 87); Joe Conley (Ike Godsey, last July, 85); and Ralph Waite (Feb. 13, 85).

Today's trivia

What TV show gave the Waltons' creator Earl Hamner Jr. his big Hollywood break, oddly enough?

Answer to Saturday's trivia: The first St. Louis Blue to score more than 50 goals was Wayne Babych, who put 54 biscuits in the basket during the 1980-81 season. It was the same year that the Blues won the Smythe Division with 107 points before falling to the Rangers 4-2 in the Stanley Cup quarterfinals. Babych's goal production fell off sharply after that, but he played three more years here before being traded to Pittsburgh.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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