Phyllis Sanchez, a mammographer in New Mexico, learned on her birthday she has breast cancer.

She now drives seven hours from her home near Albuquerque to University of Colorado Hospital for a new treatment that helps with one side effect she’s been dreading.

“As a mammographer, I don’t want to go to the waiting area and look like a cancer patient. I don’t want to look sick. It scares them!” Sanchez said. “As a woman—your hair is so important. Everyone says, 'Oh it's OK. It won’t be that bad.' But it is, it really is.”

Sanchez sits in a wing of the hospital with about a dozen other cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. Tubes pump drugs into her system to fight off the birthday surprise that she hopes to beat. Her long brown hair streams out of a large cap covering her head.

“It’s ice, ice cold. It’s really cold,” Sanchez said with her hands covering the strange hat. “The first time I put it on I was really shocked."

The DigniCap was recently approved for use by the FDA. The cap connects to a machine that monitors the cap’s temperature.

“You stunt the cells in the hair follicle so they stop making hair themselves,” Dr. Peter Kabos said, Deputy Director of the breast cancer research program. “You don’t let the toxic agent get close to it with the blood vessels. So you basically clamp down the blood supply to the skin.”

Previously, and still used where and when DigniCaps aren’t available, patients used cold caps that had to be kept cool by dry ice brought in by the patients and their families.
It does not monitor the temperature and therefore could leave patches of hair loss.

“I hope it could be more available. That would be fantastic. Because I know women would jump on it. We want our hair,” Sanchez said.

Right now, the DigniCap is only available to breast cancer patients at UCHealth but that could expand as more resources become available.

On Sept. 15, University of Colorado Hospital will host the 16th annual Men for the Cure which supports breast cancer research and programs at UCHealth.

This year some of the funds raised will provide DigniCap treatments to those who cannot afford them.