CANCER: THE SKIN YOUR IN
Tips for managing skin conditions caused by cancer treatment
Skin conditions like rash, itching and dryness are common side effects of cancer treatment. These may be painful or affect your loved one’s appearance. The healthcare team is an important source of information on how to care for skin during treatment. There are also simple, practical things a caregiver can do to keep a cancer patient’s problems under control, including...
Be gentle with the skin. Use skin-cleansing products made for sensitive skin. These products are usually fragrance-free and alcohol-free. There also are special skin-care products made for people going through cancer treatment. Be careful not to scratch, rub or scrub the skin—for example, pat the skin dry after a shower. Have the person receiving treatment wear soft, non-irritating fabrics. Avoid using hot or cold packs on treated areas of skin unless the doctor says it’s okay. Provide plenty of fluids to drink to keep the skin hydrated.
Keep the skin moist. To reduce skin dryness, have the person receiving treatment shower in lukewarm water rather than in hot water. Limit showers to one per day. After a shower, administer moisturizing lotion on the skin while it’s still damp. Look for a moisturizer that’s “non-comedogenic”– that is, one that won’t clog the pores. Apply moisturizer to the skin at least twice a day.
Protect the skin from the sun. Some drugs used in cancer treatment may make the skin more sensitive to the sun. Ask the doctor if sunblock should be used every day. To protect the skin when outdoors, have your loved one wear a broad-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt and long pants.
Take care of a skin rash. An acne-like rash can appear on the face, scalp, chest or elsewhere on the body. The doctor can prescribe a cream to put on the rash. Be sure to use the cream exactly as the doctor directs. For a severe or persistent rash, an antibiotic or acne medication may be prescribed. Ask the doctor about analgesic use if the rash is painful or an antihistamine if it’s itchy.
Tend to fingernails and toenails. Sometimes, problems with nails develop weeks or months into one’s cancer treatment and may continue after treatment ends. The skin around fingernails or toenails may become dry, brittle or cracked, and some of nails may become ingrown. Discourage nail biting, fake nails or wraps. Talk to the doctor before your loved one has a manicure. Gloves should be worn when washing dishes or doing other chores in the house or yard. Hands and feet should be moisturized often. At night, try putting a coat of petroleum jelly on hands and feet, then cover them with cotton gloves and socks, respectively. Avoid tight-fitting shoes.
Try to prevent pressure sores. If your loved one spends a lot of time lying in bed or sitting in a chair, she’s at risk of developing pressure sores. Have her avoid lying or sitting in the same position for a long time. Have her shift her weight or change her position often. Get her to be as active as possible—go for walks, or if that’s not possible, move her arms and legs up and down and back and forth.
Tell a doctor or nurse right away if your loved one feels pain or burning during chemotherapy. Sometimes drugs that are injected into a vein may leak out and cause skin damage. If she feels pain or burning during intravenous treatment, tell a doctor or nurse right away so he or she can, if necessary, stop the treatment and clean the affected area. Be sure to follow any instructions the doctor or nurse gives you on how to care for the wound when you are at home.
Talk to thee doctor about any skin concerns you have. If you notice any skin changes, always let the doctor know about them. With some newer cancer treatments, a rash or other skin side effect may be a sign that the treatment is working. In any case, the doctor can suggest ways to treat the skin condition and reduce pain or discomfort.
A Note About CancerCare and This Fact Sheet
CancerCare’s professional oncology social workers can help you cope with the side effects of cancer treatment. Their services, which include counseling, education, financial assistance and practical help, are completely free of charge. Call (800) 813-HOPE (4673) to learn more, or click here.
This CancerCare fact sheet was made possible by LindiSkin.