You may feel that skin care after cancer treatment can be something you should forget about. Battling cancer is hard enough, but dealing with the changes that take place in your skin with chemotherapy and radiation therapy is an unpleasant surprise. Since skin is our body’s first line of defense against damaging effects of the sun, infectious germs, and other harsh environmental elements, it is also one of the first areas to be affected by cancer treatments. Don’t be taken off guard. Know what to expect and tips for skin care after cancer treatment.
As uncomfortable as it can be, keep in mind that most changes in your skin will be temporary. If you catch them early, they can usually be remedied. Be diligent in writing down any changes in your skin during treatment or even take pictures of skin changes to show your healthcare professional.
Some skin care after cancer treatment you should know:
Generally speaking, take care of your skin’s affected area by washing with warm water and mild soap. Use a towel gently by patting the area dry, avoiding rubbing it. Wear loose-fitting cotton clothing. Be careful not to scratch or rub your skin. Avoid using hot or cold packs on the part of the skin that is being treated unless your doctor has told you that they are o.k. for use on your skin while undergoing cancer treatment.
If you had surgery to remove the cancer before beginning a chemotherapy or radiation regimen, you need to keep an eye on how the surgical scar is healing. If the scar seems to be getting larger or feels lumpy or rigid, tell your surgeon immediately. Also, look out for itchiness, tightness, or dryness.
Drink plenty of fluids as this will help to keep your skin hydrated and promote overall health benefits. Avoid drinks that contain alcohol or caffeine since they can act as a diuretic and dehydrate you. One of the side effects of chemotherapy is dry skin. To alleviate dryness, use mild soaps with water that is not too hot and not too cold, cleansing lotions, and creams. Steer clear of hydro-cortisone or other hormone creams, because they can be harmful to the skin. Use extra gentle care to use alcohol-free, fragrance-free, hypoallergenic moisturizer.
As hydrating as water is when you drink it, when it pulsates against your skin in the shower, it can do more damage than good. Try to take shorter showers when you are undergoing cancer treatment, and be careful not to scrub with loofahs or sponges that may be hosting bacteria or body scrub products that will strip natural oils. Also, use water that is lukewarm to warm rather than hot. As soon as your shower is done, while your skin is still moist, apply moisturizing lotion to boost the hydration in your skin.
You may notice your skin becoming reddish and sensitive. If you have dark skin to begin with, it will become even darker and may take several months to return to normal after the treatments have ended. If you normally wear cosmetics and chemotherapy has altered your skin tone, consider adjusting the color of your cosmetic foundation. Be sure to check with your doctor before applying cosmetics to make sure none of the ingredients will interfere with your treatment.
Radiation treatments bring about skin itch, pigmentation changes, swelling, pain, inflammation, or other skin irritations. You may also experience a rash. Sometimes, the rash is actually considered a sign that the radiation is working.
A rash that may make you think you’ve contracted a case of the measles or that you’ve taken a trip back to adolescence with acne. When a rash appears, take pictures to show your healthcare provider at the next appointment. If acne appears, avoid using acne medications as they can cause more irritation.
Try not to scratch your skin near the treatment area. Before applying cream or lotion, consult with your radiation oncologist, nurse, or technician since some of these products may leave a coating on your skin that interferes with your treatment. Also, avoid lotions that are scented or contain aluminum or other metals. Creams and ointments tend to be more effective than lotions to retain moisture. Choose a cream or ointment that is free of fragrance. Look for creams that are sold over-the-counter which contain anti-itch ingredients like menthol, paramoxine, or camphor. Or, ask your doctor about taking an antihistamine.
You may be spending a lot of time lying in bed or sitting in a chair while you’re undergoing cancer treatment. This will make you more susceptible to pressure sores. Try to shift positions often. At least shift your weight often. Ask your doctor for recommendations of physical activity. If you are unable to walk, move your legs and arms back and forth or up and down frequently.
Keep your skin out of the sun when you are undergoing radiation treatments. Also, avoid extreme temperatures. Don’t use sunscreen on the area of the skin that is being treated with radiation. Instead, cover up with hats or long-sleeve clothing.
Band-Aids and Razors
Avoid using band-aids or other adhesives on the treated skin, because it may cause the skin to peel. Also, avoid shaving the skin that is being treated by radiation. If you absolutely have to shave, use an electric razor.
Long-Term Effects and When To Tell Your Doctor
Remember that cancer treatment takes time and more patience in the fight that you never thought you could muster. Skin effects from radiation will linger and even get worse for a week or so even after the treatment has ended. If your skin begins to peel or wet blisters develop, these may be signs that your skin is slowly starting to grow back. You may notice pinkish colored patches of new skin growing back in the affected areas. Changes in skin tone can take several months before returning to normal. If you experience pain or burning, tell your doctor immediately. Closely follow any instructions the doctor advises as to how to do properly skin care after cancer treatment.