Melanie Williams, left, at Disney World with her daughter Aggie between chemo treatments last summer. Thanks to the DigniCap, Melanie experienced only minor hair loss.

Cancer patients facing chemotherapy – and the prospect of losing all their hair – now have access to an innovative treatment that could save them from one of the most dreaded side effects of the powerful cancer-fighting drugs.

DigniCap, a scalp cooling system clinically proven to reduce chemotherapy-induced hair loss in cancer patients with solid tumors, is now available at Beaufort Memorial’s New River Cancer Center in Okatie and Keyserling Cancer Center in Beaufort.

The system consists of a computerized cooling unit attached to a cooling cap the patient wears during each chemotherapy session.

“By cooling the scalp, you decrease the blood flow to the area so less of the chemicals reach the hair cells,” said Mark Hennigan, director of Beaufort Memorial’s oncology services.

For Bluffton High School teacher Melanie Williams, DigniCap was a godsend. The 49-year-old mother of two teenagers, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer, jumped at the chance to save her shoulder-length hair and avoid going bald.

“It made a real difference for me psychologically,” she said. “You have so many things to worry about when you find out you have cancer. But one of my fears – losing my hair – at least I could push that one aside.”

The idea of cooling the scalp during chemo dates back to the 1970s when some cancer patients began using bags of frozen vegetables or ice packs to try to stop the cancer drugs from “burning” their hair.

Some 20 years later, a Swedish oncology nurse intent on sparing cancer patients the emotional pain of losing their hair, teamed up with an engineer to develop a system that would produce more consistent, controllable results.

A clinical trial showed DigniCap prevented hair loss in 66.3% of patients receiving chemotherapy. In 2015, the medical device received clearance from the FDA. The treatment is currently offered in more than 250 locations in the U.S. Beaufort Memorial’s two cancer centers are the only medical facilities in Beaufort County providing the service.

DigniCap currently charges $300 per treatment. In addition, patients purchase the DigniCap kit, which includes an inner cooling wrap that tightens around the head, as well as a neoprene cap that goes over the wrap to ensure constant contact to the scalp.

“Quite a few insurance companies cover the cost,” said Melissa Bourestom, vice president of communications for medical technology company Dignitana, which produces DigniCap. “We offer an online hub to help patients file for reimbursements and can assist with the paperwork required for submission.”

Williams, who underwent her final treatment last fall, was impressed with the results. While her hair is a little thinner, she hasn’t had to wear a scarf or wig.

“Keeping my hair made this process much easier for me,” she said. “And my children and my students could look at me and not be constantly reminded that I have cancer.”