Cancer treatment advancements in chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy and immunotherapy have allowed for a more personalised approach to each patient. While this marks a turning point in treating different cancers, it does have adverse effects on the patient, some of which affecting skin, hair and nails. Whilst the severity of the treatment may vary, from case to case, they do impact the quality of life of the patient.
Early intervention is key to prevent skincare side effects from worsening. Cancer treatments can prove to be very tough on the skin. Most susceptible of all are the extremities of the body resulting in rough, itchy, dry, flaky and tight skin.
Dry and Itchy Skin
Having dry skin during cancer treatment is quite common, especially your lips, hands and feet. Pay special attention to these areas as they have very few oil glands and tend to dry out quicker. Skin in these areas can thicken and crack, which may become uncomfortable and at times painful. When washing your face and body avoid products that are abrasive such as loofahs and face cleansers that contain microparticles and exfoliants. Remember to moisturise these areas at least twice a day within 15 minutes from showering. Above all make sure to avoid using soaps, detergents and creams that contain fragrances as these may irritate the skin and worsen your condition. Choose hypoallergenic products that are safe to use for sensitive and intolerant skin, that have a pleasant feel and contain natural lipids similar to those found in the skin. Your health care professional can help you choose the best product for your condition.
Sensitivity to Light
With certain cancer treatments, skin can become more sensitive to the sun. It is important to point out that protection from UV rays must be all year round! Make sure to apply a high-grade SPF sunscreen throughout treatment and after radiotherapy session have ceased. Why after? Because chronic radiodermatitis can occur, which is a late side effect of skin irradiation.
Choose a sunscreen that has a:
- soft texture so that it can be applied easily,
- that has an SPF50+ and protects from both UVA and UVB rays
It is important to apply sunscreen after you moisturise and at 2-hour intervals on exposed skin and don’t forget the areas around the ears, lips, neck and palms of the hands.
Protect your nails
Cancer treatments may cause your nails to lift, break, or develop light or dark streaks. Keep your nails short to avoid any risk of infection and avoid getting manicures and pedicures. Protect your hands and nails by wearing gloves during manual jobs like washing dishes, cleaning the house, gardening, chores in the garage etc. As for the feet avoid wearing tight-fitting shoes.
Take care of your hair
Hair loss is one if not the most dreaded side effects of cancer treatment. It is also an indication that the treatment is working on the body. Chemotherapy targets both cancerous cells and also some healthy cells like those found in the hair follicle. Improve your quality of life simply by using a gentle shampoo the day before each session and avoid shampooing your hair in the next 3 to 5 days. Dry your hair gently by dabbing it with a towel and avoid anything that might be too aggressive such as curling irons, straighteners and blow-drying. If your hair has fallen and your scalp is itchy you can massage it with a few dabs of a lipid-rich emollient to help soften the affected area. If rocking a bald head is not your cup of tea, why not accessorise! Try out some headgear and choose what suits you best. Maybe seek the advice of a friend to help you make the choice. Don’t forget…it’s just a phase.
While these tips are here to help you achieve a better quality of life, we cannot stress enough how important it is, to seek medical advice from your doctor and your pharmacist. Make sure to recount with them what you are experiencing and how you fell about it. Consult with them about the products that you are using so that they can guide you as to what’s best for your particular needs.