Around 50% of patients with cancer who are treated with immunotherapy and targeted therapy experience a skin-related side effect that can affect their quality of life, according to Dr. Anisha Patel, an expert at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Side effects range from skin and nail reactions to hair and foot concerns. “A lot of it is reactions that dermatologists are used to seeing already that oncologists might not be as familiar with. There are reactions that mimic acne, eczema, psoriasis. Sort of normal skin diseases but associated with these drugs.”
Side effects like these can often compromise patient quality of life and, in some cases, force them to stop treatment. “For example, (sometimes), if you reduce the dose of the drug, the rash gets better,” she said.
Sometimes combinations of the therapies are used and that’s when side effect management becomes even more dire. “We’re seeing this more and more with the clinical trials where it’s like the same side effects that you expect to see but they are worse and harder to manage,” Patel said. “In our research and comparing them to patients who are just on one therapy, the side effects are becoming much more of an issue in patients being able to stay on therapies.”
What You Can Do
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.
- Use soaps and moisturisers recommended by your child’s doctor. Stick with gentle, fragrance-free soaps, and use creams or ointments to protect their skin from drying out.
- Use emollient creams to relieve itchy skin.
- Keep their 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 make them wear sun hats, sunscreen, and long sleeves when in the sun.
- Keep their nails short, and make sure they don’t bite them.
- Use cuticle creams and only trim them when frayed to avoid irritation or infection.
- Make sure your child wears shoes that do not pinch so that there are no pressure points or areas of friction, as these are most likely to create discomfort and/or infection.
Remember to discuss any side-effects with your child’s care team, as they will give you the best advice on how to handle the side effects. Also remember, these changes are generally temporary and resolve once treatment is completed.