Chemotherapy side effects: skin

Some chemotherapy drugs may cause changes to the skin.

Possible side effect: changes to the skin.

When symptoms may occur: during your course of chemotherapy.

Symptoms include:

  • Sore, dry hands and feet
  • Nails become darker than usual; these changes usually grow out over a few months after the treatment has finished.
  • Nails may develop ridges and white lines

What you should do:

  • Use a moisturiser, such as aqueous cream on dry skin
  • Protect your skin in the sun

Some chemotherapy drugs may cause sore, dry hands and feet. This problem can be relieved with medication so please tell your doctor if it happens.

Certain drugs may discolour the skin causing dark lines along the veins or where there is friction, for example due to tight clothing. Others may cause a local red reaction at the injection site or along the vein. This fades a short time after treatment.

Any rash should always be reported to your doctor. Some drugs may cause patches of red skin, particularly on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet. The skin may become dry and cracked. Using a good hand cream may help to prevent this.

During treatment, and for several months afterwards, your skin may be more sensitive to the sun and you may burn more easily. A moisturiser, such as aqueous cream, will help prevent dryness. Try to stay in the shade between 10am and 3pm, and wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses that block out 100% of ultraviolet (UV) rays, and a T-shirt or other loose clothing.

Whenever you spend any length of time in the sun, apply a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or more that blocks both UVB and UVA light. Put it on at least half an hour before exposure to sun. Remember vulnerable areas such as your ears, neck, back of the hands and feet.

After your treatment has finished, you should protect your skin from extremes of temperature and continue using sunscreen (factor 15 or above).