During cancer treatment, you go through several changes. This includes not just changes in your body but also mentally. The various medicines that you take in order to treat cancer have different side effects on your body. One of them is the effect the treatment has on your skin. A person going through chemotherapy, radiation therapy or targeted therapy may face skin issues like itchy and dry skin, chemo rash, changes in skin color and even photosensitivity. This article focuses on treating the side effects that cancer treatment has on the skin and how to be more comfortable in your skin during and after treatment.
Common side effects of cancer treatment
The skin reactions you have in response to chemo and radiation therapy are called radiation recall. The parts of the body that are treated will show side effects like,
- Pain or tenderness
- Blisters or wet sores
- Peeling skin
And in rare cases, you will develop allergic reactions to the treatment like hives, severe itchiness and rashes.
“Chemo rash” simply refers to the rashes that appear on your skin based on the area of the treatments. Contrary to its name, chemo rash can also be caused by radiation, targeted therapy and even Immunotherapy. In most cases, chemo rash is a sign that your treatment is, in fact, working.
Steps for prevention
While rashes are a common symptom of cancer treatment, they can be prevented and avoided with a few easy precautions,
- Bathe with a mild soap that has a low pH level.
- While bathing, make sure you don’t scrub aggressively or use bathing sponges.
- Moisturize your skin with a gentle, unscented lotion.
- Avoid scented products, even dish soap and detergents, since they can aggravate the rashes.
- Avoid going out in the sun since the ultraviolet rays are harmful to your skin. If you must go, make sure you wear sunscreen with an SPF of more than 30.
Itchy skin is another common side effect, and persistent itchy skin can make you restless and uncomfortable. Continuously itching the sensitive parts may lead to sores that are vulnerable to infections.
Steps for prevention
A few minor changes in your bathing habits and day-to-day routine can help prevent and ease itchy skin.
- Use warm water rather than hot or cold water since extreme temperatures can aggravate skin sensitivity.
- Add baking soda, bathing oil or a mesh bag of oatmeal to your bath to soothe the skin while using unscented bathing products.
- After the bath, make sure you pat your skin dry and not rub it.
- Use mild deodorants or replace your deodorant with baking soda.
- Use sunscreen even inside the house since it protects the skin not just from sun rays but also other microdust particles that aggravate itchy skin.
- Make sure your surroundings are well ventilated and keep the temperature cool so that it doesn’t irritate your skin.
- Wear clothes that are soft, breathable and loose to wear.
- Keeping yourself hydrated and getting enough sleep can also aid in making the itchiness better.
Care for itchy areas in the body
The doctors of your care team will provide you with tips on how to treat the itching areas. There are also a few steps you can take to treat the skin yourself,
- Apply ice packs to the affected areas. Use a bag of ice wrapped in a towel and leave it on the affected areas till the ice melts. This will help numb the itchy feeling and soothe the skin.
- Make sure your nails are clean and short, so you don’t damage the skin if you scratch yourself.
- Consider wearing light, soft gloves if you can’t help scratching the skin.
- Try to rub, tap or apply pressure on the itchy areas instead of scratching them to prevent damaging skin damage.
- Take antihistamines or anti-itch medications as directed by your doctor.
While dehydrated skin can look normal for some people, there are some common symptoms that are telling of dry skin. Flaky and ashy-looking skin that has cracks, bleeding from these cracks and tightness of skin around lines and creases of the skin are some of the common signs. Dry skin can be treated by taking the necessary steps,
- Moisturize the skin at least twice a day.
- Use body cream with ingredients like salicylic acid, urea, ammonium and lactic acid since these ingredients help retain moisture in the skin.
- Avoid any skincare products that contain alcohol. Alcohol absorbs moisture; hence it is bad for your skin.
- Include fluids in your daily routine. Make sure you consult your doctors about the kind of liquids you’re allowed to take and constantly hydrate yourself.
Skin color changes
The various changes in skin color that are caused due to cancer treatment mostly return to normal five to six months after treatment, but there are a few cases where the color of the skin remains the same even years after treatment.
Common skin color changes include
- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.
- Blue and purple bruises appear on the skin that have no known causes.
- Pale and bluish lips, nails and skin.
- Red patches in areas of skin
While there are multiple reasons for these changes in skin color, the most common factors that contribute to these changes are the fluctuating nutrition deficiencies in the body. The doctors will provide you with the necessary information on which food types and medicines will help in regaining your original color.
Cancer Care and the process of the treatment call for a lot of changes in the body, and one of the common side effects on the skin is photosensitivity. The radiation and chemotherapy can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. Additional protection and precautions should be taken in order to protect your skin.
- Wear clothes that cover your body for the most part. Carry a wide-brimmed hat with you at all times to protect yourself from the sun, especially from 10 a.m to 4 p.m.
- Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect yourself against both UVA and UVB rays. It is recommended to wear sunscreen with an SPF of more than 30. Make sure you reapply the sunscreen every two hours to ensure maximum protection.
It is easy to forget about taking care of your skin during cancer treatment since it doesn’t rank as your first priority during treatment, but including the simple daily steps into your routine during cancer care can help you improve your lifestyle drastically and can also make life easier and more comfortable during this intense process.