Skin and Nail Changes

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause temporary changes in the skin (especially in the treatment area) and nails. Some skin reactions may also indicate a medication allergy.

Common Skin Reactions

  • Darker veins and/or darkening skin color
  • Dryness, itching, redness, peeling, blistering or rash
  • Increased sensitivity to the sun

If these symptoms appear, call your doctor or nurse so they can monitor it and provide specific treatment advice.

Major skin changes can be caused by:

  • Radiation recall. Some chemotherapy causes skin in the area where you had radiation therapy to turn red (ranging from very light to bright red). Your skin may blister, peel or be very painful.
  • Chemotherapy leaking from the IV. Let your doctor or nurse know right away if you have burning or pain when you get IV chemotherapy.
  • Allergic reactions to chemotherapy. Some skin changes mean you are allergic to the chemotherapy. Let your doctor or nurse know right away if you have sudden and severe itching, rashes, or hives, along with wheezing or other trouble breathing

Skin Care Tips

  • Always wear sunscreen and lip balm, and cover skin as much as possible when outside.
  • Avoid sun exposure, tanning beds, swimming pools and hot tubs.
  • Keep the treatment area free of tape or bandages.
  • Pat skin dry instead of rubbing it.
  • Take short warm showers instead of long hot baths.
  • Use alcohol- and perfume-free soaps, lotions, creams and detergents.
  • Use an electric razor, shave less often, or stop shaving completely if skin is irritated.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing.
  • Use water-based lotional or pure aloe vera gel.

Your radiation oncologist will provide specific instructions on how to care for radiated skin.

Common Nail Changes

Fingernails may turn dark and yellow, become brittle and crack easily, and loosen and fall off. Prevent these problems by:

  • Avoiding artificial nails and gel manicures to lower the risk of infection
  • Checking with the doctor or nurse before getting a manicure or pedicure
  • Keeping nails clean and cut fairly short
  • Wearing gloves when washing dishes, cleaning house or working in the garden