Posted on February 25 2021

Cancer and cancer treatment can cause skin changes such as dryness, itchiness, and rash. On top of that, some types of chemotherapy can end up causing multiple changes in the skin. It can go from a mild rash to skin becoming easily sunburned, meaning the color of the skin can change and become lighter or darker in some places. It is also common for cancer patients to develop sores or cracks on the skin. These side effects on the skin can cause discomfort and an increased risk of infection.

During cancer, patients and families should look for signs of skin injuries and must take extra precautions to protect the skin.



Here are a few symtoms you might want to be on the lookout for:

  • Acne
  • Bedsores (pressure ulcers)
  • Blisters
  • Pain or burning of the skin
  • Dry Skin
  • Hyperpigmentation (darker skin areas, tongue, and joints)
  • Hypopigmentation (lighter skin patches)
  • Itchy skin
  • Keratoacanthoma (dome-shaped growth on the skin)
  • Peeling, cracking, or crusting of the skin
  • Photosensitivity (skin that burns easily in the sun)
  • Rash
  • Irritation or redness of the skin
  • Painful sores
  • Swelling of the skin


How to control side effects?

Treatments for skin side effects depend on the specific symptoms and severity. The care team will consider the following:

  • How much skin is affected
  • The amount of discomfort and impact on daily activities
  • If symptoms get better or worse
  • The risk of infection and other complications

General skin care during cancer involves keeping the skin clean and constantly moisturized along with protecting it from irritation, injuries, and infections.



  • Drink lots of water.
  • Protect and moisturize your skin with gentle creams, ointments, and lotions.
  • Use alcohol-free and unscented varieties of skin care products.
  • Apply lotion or cream right after showering, while the skin is still moist. This will increase lotion and cream efficiency.
  • For extremely dry lips, use lip balm.
  • Don’t rub your skin dry after showering. Instead use a towel to gently pat it dry. Bathe with warm, not with very hot or cold water.
  • Oatmeal baths can soothe dry skin.
  • Try and use just water when washing.
  • Use mild clothes detergent.
  • Avoid wool and similar, possibly irritating fabric. Wear comfortable, fitting clothes.
  • Electric razors can minimize cuts when shaving.
  • Stay inside when the weather is either too hot or too cold.
  • Protect your skin from the sun. Shield it with hats and umbrellas, and avoid exposure to the sun at midday. Some sunscreens and tanning beds can contain irritating chemicals. Ask your nurse or oncologist for a recommendation on what product to use. If you do use sunscreen, make sure it is one with good UVA and UVB protection.

Families should be on constant communication with the care team in case a medicine or skin product causes burning or stinging, a sudden rash or itching occurs, symptoms worsen, or signs of infection. Always speak with your care team before using any new product.

In general, the side effects of radiation or chemotherapy to the skin develop slowly during the first few weeks of treatment and improve after radiation therapy ends. However, radiation-treated skin will be more sensitive to the sun both during and after treatment. Additionally, radiation-treated skin may have a reaction after chemotherapy known as radiation recall.

The radiation recall reaction sometimes occurs weeks, months, or even years after radiation therapy ends. Also called radiation evocation phenomenon.

Overall, skin needs special care during radiation/chemotherapy, and it is essencial to follow the directions of your care team and check in with them first before making any treatment related decisions.