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How to Handle Nail and Skin Issues During Cancer Treatment

Among common side effects such as hair loss and nausea, radiation, chemotherapy, biologics, and targeted cancer therapies also can cause changes to your skin or nails.

If you are undergoing radiation, the skin surrounding or within the treatment area may become red and sore like a sunburn. You may also develop pruritus, or dry, peeling, or itchy skin.

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Depending on the type of treatment you’re receiving, a moist reaction is another skin condition that can occur. This commonly appears in skin folds, when the area being treated becomes painful, wet, or infected.

Your radiation treatment team will try to limit these skin changes. If they do occur, it is important to seek care as soon as possible.

In addition to pruritus, chemotherapy, biologics, and targeted therapies can cause increased sensitivity to the sun. Chemotherapy and targeted therapy may cause your nails to turn dark, develop ridges, or become brittle. Your cuticles also may become inflamed and painful.

RELATED: What Your Nails Say About Your Health

How to Care for Your Skin and Nails During Cancer Treatment

Risk of infection is the main concern with skin-related side effects of cancer treatment. However, there are simple steps you can take to care for your skin and nails throughout treatment and potentially decrease discomfort and chances of infection.

RELATED: Dealing with Hair Loss During Cancer Treatment

  • Use soaps and moisturizers recommended by your doctor. Stick with gentle, fragrance-free soaps, and use creams or ointments to protect your skin from getting dry.
  • Keep showers and baths short, and use lukewarm or warm water. Limit showers to once a day and baths to twice a week.
  • Avoid tanning beds, and wear sun hats, sunscreen, and long sleeves when in the sun.
  • Keep your nails short, and don’t bite them.
  • Use cuticle creams and only trim them when frayed to avoid irritation or infection.
  • Skip acrylics or nail wraps during your cancer treatment. Moisturizing is a better option than fake nails, which can trap bacteria.

Your care team will give you the best advice on how to handle the side effects of cancer treatment on your skin and nails. These changes are usually temporary and resolve after treatment is completed.