Memorial Sloan-Kettering dermatologist Mario Lacouture discusses common skin, hair, and nail conditions affecting cancer survivors.
Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and cell or bone marrow transplants affect rapidly growing cells, such as those in cancer. The skin is not only the largest organ in our bodies but it is constantly renewing itself to provide the best barrier against infections, while retaining vital fluids. As such, this constant renewal makes it extremely susceptible to chemotherapy, which can lead to rashes, itching, dry skin, and skin infections. There may be steps you can take before treatment begins to minimize the development of these side effects, depending on which type of treatment you will be receiving.
Hair loss is also common during chemotherapy, and sometimes can persist well after therapy has been completed, in which case other causes must be investigated, such as thyroid gland function and iron stores in the blood. In addition, certain topical drug formulations such as minoxidil (for the scalp) and bimatoprost (for the eyelashes) can be used to speed up regrowth during treatment. The nails are also structures formed from skin and can be affected during chemotherapy, especially with the use of taxane-based chemotherapies. We have devised the use of certain mechanisms in order to prevent nail loss during treatment (for example, using of cooling gloves and slippers during infusions), and vitamins such as biotin, which can be used to strengthen nails after treatment.
Radiation can also cause skin burns, which can become painful and infected. These can be treated with antibiotics or antiinflammatory creams. Surveys conducted in survivors have shown that irritation and dry skin are some of the most troublesome side effects experienced during chemotherapy. In addition, studies have shown that skin cancers are much more frequent in survivors, especially those that have received radiation. Taken as a whole, skin conditions during your treatment can be minimized through careful evaluation and treatment.
How to Contact Us
Dermatologist Mario Lacouture specializes in dermatological health during and after treatment. The program is open to all Memorial Sloan-Kettering patients who are being treated for cancer, former patients, and patients from other hospitals. To find out more, talk to your doctor or nurse or call 212-610-0079.