• Coping With Skin and Nail Problems Related to Chemotherapy

    woman You may have minor skin problems while you are having chemotherapy , such as redness, rashes, itching, peeling, dryness, acne, and increased sensitivity to the sun. Certain anticancer drugs, when given intravenously (IV), may cause the skin over the veins to look darker. The darkened areas will fade a few months after treatment ends.
    Your nails may also become darkened, yellow, brittle, or cracked. They also may develop vertical lines or bands.
    Most of these problems are not serious and you can take care of them yourself. A few need immediate attention. Certain drugs given via IV can cause serious and permanent tissue damage if they leak out of the vein. Tell your doctor or nurse right away if you feel any burning or pain when you are getting IV drugs. These symptoms do not always mean there is a problem, but they must always be checked at once. Don't hesitate to call your doctor about even the less serious symptoms.
    Some symptoms may mean you are having an allergic reaction that may need to be treated at once. Call your doctor or nurse right away if:
    • You develop sudden or severe itching
    • Your skin breaks out in a rash or hives
    • You have wheezing or any other trouble breathing

    How Can I Cope With Skin and Nail Problems?

    • Try to keep your face clean and dry.
    • Ask your doctor or nurse if you can use over-the-counter medicated creams or soaps.
    • Apply cornstarch as you would a dusting powder.
    • To help avoid dryness, take quick showers or sponge baths. Do not take long, hot baths. Use a moisturizing soap.
    • Pat yourself dry after bathing. Do not rub.
    • Apply cream and lotion while your skin is still moist.
    • Avoid perfume, cologne, or after-shave lotion that contains alcohol.
    • Use an oatmeal bath for generalized pruritus.
    • You can buy nail-strengthening products in a drug store. Be aware that these products may bother your skin and nails.
    • Protect your nails by wearing gloves when washing dishes, gardening, or doing other work around the house.
    • Be sure to let your doctor know if you have redness, pain, or changes around the cuticles.
    • Avoid direct sunlight as much as possible, especially between 10 AM-4 PM when the sun's rays are the strongest.
    • Use a sunscreen lotion with a skin protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher to protect against sun damage. A product such as zinc oxide , sold over- the-counter, can block the sun's rays completely.
    • Use a lip balm with an SPF of 15 or higher.
    • Wear long-sleeve cotton shirts, light-colored pants, and hats with a wide brim (particularly if you have hair loss), to block the sun.
    • Do not use tanning beds.
    Even people with dark skin need to protect themselves from the sun during chemotherapy.


    American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org

    National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov


    BC Cancer Agency http://www.bccancer.bc

    Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca


    Chemotherapy and you. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/chemotherapy-and-you.pdf. Accessed May 14, 2012.

    Understanding chemotherapy: a guide for patients. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/TreatmentTypes/Chemotherapy/UnderstandingChemotherapyAGuideforPatientsandFamilies/understanding-chemotherapy-more-side-effects-skin-and-nail-changes. Updated March 17, 2011. Accessed May 14, 2012.

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