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Caring for Your Skin During Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a component of multimodal treatment, the most common approach to treating mesothelioma. A highly effective treatment, chemotherapy limits or slows cancer growth. However, chemotherapy is not easy for the patients going through it. The drugs used to attack cancer cells also affect some healthy cells, causing a number of uncomfortable and painful side effects.

Among the many side effects of chemotherapy treatment is skin damage. If you are undergoing chemotherapy you may experience rashes, dryness, changes in skin color, itchiness, sun sensitivity, and many other skin issues. There are things you can do to try to prevent the worst side effects and properly care for your skin during and after chemotherapy.

Why Chemotherapy Affects Skin and What You Can Do about it

Chemotherapy treatment is the administration of a drug, or combination of drugs, to kill or prevent growth of cancer cells. These drugs circulate through the entire body, targeting all cells that grow and divide rapidly. Skin cells may be targeted in this way. Skin issues may also arise from certain drug types or a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.

It is important for patients to remember most skin side effects are temporary and treatable. Preventative steps can also help avoid some side effects or minimize severity.If you are undergoing chemotherapy, talk to your doctor about what to  o to protect your skin in advance. As you begin treatment, make note of skin changes and report them to your doctors. A dermatologist can be added to your medical team to help you with problematic skin issues.

Dry, Itchy Skin

Dryness and itchiness are the most common skin side effects of chemotherapy treatment. Dry skin is not just uncomfortable. It can also become inflamed, increasing the risk of  infection. To help minimize or prevent dry skin and itchiness, avoid soaps and lotions with fragrances. These additives can irritate skin. Also, avoid hot showers and baths. Be gentle with your skin. Do not scrub with harsh substances and pat gently to dry. Wear soft, loose-fitting clothing.

To treat dry skin, use fragrance-free moisturizers and bath oils. Apply lotion or oil at least twice a day, especially after showering. If you are still itchy and dry, your doctors or dermatologist can help recommend other products, prescribe a steroid cream, or direct you to use an oral antihistamine. Chemotherapy may also make your skin more sensitive to the sun, making dryness worse. It is crucial to use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 whenever going out doors.

Skin Rashes

Like dry skin, rashes can be both uncomfortable and unsightly. Certain chemotherapy drugs are more likely to cause rashes, though all have potential to trigger red, painful, burning, and itchy rashes. Most often the rash will disappear after treatment is complete. While going through chemotherapy, it is important to tell your doctors if you develop a rash. An over-the-counter cream may help, although you may benefit from a prescription.

Rashes can easily become infected. You may need antibiotics to resolve any infection caused by a rash. As with dry skin, avoid hot showers, abrasive materials, and products with added fragrance. Again, skin with a rash is more sensitive to the sun, so use sunscreen.

Skin Color Changes

Hyperpigmentation, darkening of the skin, may occur with some chemotherapy drugs. Some people experience widespread color changes, others may have limited patches of darkened skin. Also, a rash may darken the skin after it heals.

Sun exposure may also worsen hyperpigmentation. Some drugs may cause discoloration in nail, hair, and veins. Hyperpigmentation is usually temporary. However, talk to your medical team if you experience discoloration. There are lightening products available that may reduce hyperpigmentation as you go through treatment.

Hand-Foot Syndrome

If you experience swelling, redness, burning, and skin peeling on the hands or feet during chemotherapy, you may have hand-foot syndrome. Certain chemotherapy drugs can concentrate in the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, causing this kind of damage. Hand-foot syndrome can be painful. It can lead to difficulty walking or doing things with your hands. Keeping hands and feet cool and using lotion may help. However, be sure to report signs of this condition to your doctor. Your medical team may prescribe medication, including steroids and painkillers.

Radiation Recall

When radiation therapy is followed by certain chemotherapy drugs, it can result in a condition called radiation recall. Radiation recall causes blistering, tenderness, and redness around the treatment site. It can be avoided by waiting longer to administer chemotherapy drugs. Treatment with corticosteroids is another option. As with other rashes, avoid sun exposure until it heals.

Nail Changes

Chemotherapy can also cause changes to the nails. Most common are cosmetic changes, including discoloration or a change of nail texture. Most patients will not experience any pain or discomfort with these changes. If you experience nail changes, avoid manicures and pedicures during chemotherapy or until your nails have healed. You can use nail polish to hide discoloration. However, look for water-based polishes without harsh chemicals like formaldehyde and toluene.

Ingredients Harsh on Sensitive Skin

Cancer treatment can make your skin very sensitive. If you experience sensitivity, watch out for products and ingredients that did not bother you previously. Ask your doctor or dermatologist about recommendations for soap, laundry detergents, lotions, and other products that will not further irritate your skin.

Also, check labels for ingredients that may cause irritation, including alcohol, fragrance, and exfoliants. Avoid sulfates, like sodium laureth sulfate. Even products that boast natural ingredients can be irritating. Essential oils and certain extracts can cause itching or rashes. When trying a new skin product, first test a small patch of skin see if it will cause irritation.

Most skin and nail problems that arise during mesothelioma chemotherapy treatment are are temporary. The biggest concern is infection which can be serious during chemotherapy. Be sure to talk to your doctors about any skin issues. Also, follow treatment recommendations and avoid scratching, which can lead to infection. Remember to treat your skin gently, keep it moisturized, protect it from the sun, and avoid harsh chemicals. Before you know it, you will have healthy skin again.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

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Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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