The skin is the largest organ in the body and its main functions include protection. It protects the body from external factors such as bacteria, chemicals and temperature. For this reason it is important to take good care of your skin, especially if you have cancer.
Cancer treatment can affect people’s skin, hair, and nails. Often times, skin problems caused by cancer treatment are not serious, but they can be uncomfortable and noticeable.
In this article we explain the changes in the skin and nails that some cancer treatments can cause.
How can cancer treatments affect the skin?
- Sometimes radiation therapy causes dryness, peeling, itching, redness, or darkening of the skin where the radiation is applied. The skin may appear to be sunburned or swollen. You may also have sores that become painful, moist, and infectious. This is called a wet reaction.
- Some types of chemotherapy cause dryness, itching, redness, or darkening or peeling of the skin. You may have a mild rash or your skin may easily get sunburned; This is called photosensitivity. Some people also have changes in skin pigmentation.
- Stem cell transplants sometimes cause graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), which causes skin problems such as a rash, blisters, or thickening.
- Some types of immunotherapy cause severe rashes that are sometimes extensive. You may have dry skin or blisters.
- Some types of targeted therapy can also cause dry skin, a rash, and nail problems.
How to care of your skin during cancer treatment?
Due to the temporary nature of the treatments and the “memory” of the skin, not everything is recoverable, and it is better to prevent. It is important to take time to take care of your skin and prevent the effects of the treatments.
- Hydration. It is one of the keys to healthy skin. Normal skin contains 70% water, of which 13% is in the superficial layer, and it is what gives the skin its extensibility, flexibility and permeability, it is very important to drink at least 2 liters of water a day. You should start using simple moisturizers formulated for sensitive skin.
- Solar protection. After the treatments, the skin is more sensitive to the sun’s rays, so photoprotection must also be taken into account. Dr. Guerra recommends preferably using physical sunscreens, which are less allergenic.
- Nail care. Nails are also going to be damaged since the nail cuticle is constantly reproducing and is also sensitive to chemotherapy. You have to take care of your nails, do not cut them too much.
- Eyebrows, eyelids and eyelashes. They may also fall off. Using soft, hydrating eye contours can help.
- Pigmentations. With many chemotherapies, spots can appear on the skin, especially in the folds: armpits, groin, and also on the face, in the lateral areas of the neck. You have to use sun protection so that it does not increase, be patient and do not use conventional depigmentation agents, commonly used in other situations, because they are irritating.
Any improvement, that may seem trivial, are not when it comes to aesthetic, as they mark the difference between feeling comfortable or not, encouraged or not, positive or negative about the disease.
- MedlinePlus. “Layers of skin”. Available online: https://medlineplus.gov/spanish/ency/esp_imagepages/8912.htm#:~:text=La%20piel%20es%20el%20%C3%B3rgano,bacterias%2C%20sustancias%20qu%C3% ADmics% 20 and% 20temperature
- National Cancer Institute. “Skin and nail changes during cancer treatment.” Available online: https://www.cancer.gov/espanol/cancer/treatment/secondary-effects/skin-changes
- Cancer.net. “Skin conditions.” Available online: https://www.cancer.net/es/asimilaci%C3%B3n-con-c%C3%A1ncer/efectos-f%C3%ADsicos-emocionales-y-sociales-del-c%C3%A1ncer / management-of-side-effects-f% C3% ADsics / conditions-cut% C3% A1neas
- St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “Skin changes during cancer treatment.” Available online: https://together.stjude.org/es-us/diagn%C3%B3stico-tratamiento/efectos-secundarios/cambios-en-la-piel.html#:~:text=Entre%20los%20cambios% 20commons% 20en, the% 20u% C3% B1as% 20o% 20el% 20hair.
- Spanish Association against Cancer. “Aesthetic care”. Available online: https://www.aecc.es/es/todo-sobre-cancer/viviendo-con-cancer/diagnostico/cuinados-esteticos
- Take care of yourself Plus. “Seven aspects of the skin to take care of if you have cancer.” Available online: https://cuidateplus.marca.com/belleza-y-piel/cuidados-faciales/2016/04/01/siete-aspectos-piel-hay-cuidar-tienes-cancer-112217.html