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Breast Cancer & Your Skin

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Look Good… Feel Better;
Coping with skin related side effects of Breast cancer treatment.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy for Breast Cancer treatment causes skin changes during and even long after treatments have finished. Addressing the side effects of cancer treatment, patients can often alleviate their discomfort and feel better about themselves.

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How to care for your skin through Breast Cancer – from personal and professional experience.
Breast Cancer & Your Skin
  • How does it affect the skin?
  • What creams should be avoided?
  • Tips for Chemotherapy skin care
  • Tips for Radiotherapy skin care
  • Dryness & Itchy skin
  • Acne/ Acne Scarring caused by Chemotherapy
  • Skin Colour Changes
  • Breast Cancer Scars

Although with a cancer diagnosis skin care can seem to be the least of your concerns. However, in fact the drugs that kill cancer cells also affect the skin cells and cycle. During treatment the skin cells are not replaced as they would normally and so the skin becomes fragile and discoloured. The natural protective barrier is also impacted, the skin becomes dehydrated and dry. If these changes are not addressed, the skin can become irritated, inflamed and lead to rashes and painful infected skin. Chemotherapy induced menopause also causes changes to the skin; thinner, loss of elasticity, textural changes, increased dryness and blotchiness.

During chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments, it is advisable to avoid skincare that contain fragrance, alcohol, preservatives, and active essential oils, which can be irritating or cause allergic reaction while the skin is sensitive and fragile. Also, exfoliating skin care products should be stopped, such as AHAs, BHAs, including exfoliating cleansers and scrubs and any loofahs avoided. Retinol should be used with caution under the direction of Dermal Clinicians or replaced with a Retinyl ester moisturiser during treatment. Use only recommended skin products. Ask the MLAC Dermal Clinicians to recommend specific skin products and prescriptive topicals.

Chemotherapy interferes with the process of cell division and reproduction. Both healthy cells and cancer cells are affected by chemotherapy treatment. Cells that rapidly divide are most affected. The skin therefore is affected by treatment. The side effects depend on the chemotherapy drug, the dose and length of treatment and if you are having other treatments.

There are certain steps you can take to reduce the side effects from treatment on your skin. Eating nutritious foods and drinking lots of water assists in recovery. While receiving treatment you are recommended to ;

  • Wear soft fabrics like cotton
  • Avoid tight fitting clothing
  • Avoid extremes in temperatures i.e. hot water bottles, hair dryers, hot showers
  • Gently pat the skin dry with a soft towel—do not rub
  • Keep skin folds dry
  • Avoid using soap, perfume, deodorant, talcum powder
  • Protect your skin from sunlight

The effect of radiotherapy on your skin depends on various factor including dosage and strength of the radiotherapy, the number of treatments, the site and concurrent treatments such as chemotherapy.

  • Apply a moisturising cream twice a day to the breast/chest area, neck and underarm.
  • Avoid using soap and soap-based cleansers.
  • Avoid using very hot water when showering. Hot water leaves the skin stripped and dry and sensitive.
  • Gently pat your skin dry with a soft towel. Avoid rubbing and rough, abrasive towels.
  • Use unscented deodorant.
  • Wear loose-fitting cotton clothes, avoid synthetic clothes. Avoid tight clothes and underwire bras.
  • Drink water for hydration.
  • Avoid exposing the treated skin to direct sunlight.
  • Avoid massage to the affected area.

Aim to maintain your fluid levels; drink 1–2 litres of fluids (water, juice, etc) a day. Check with your Dermal Clinician about moisturisers for dry skin. Basic moisturisers are ideal during treatment, and then more active creams can be incorporated when treatment is finished to replenish nutrients and nourishment.

  • Add a few drops of jojoba or olive oil to your bath water
  • Avoid harsh laundry powders, scented soaps or bubble baths
  • Short showers or baths with warm water, not hot water
  • Use a moisturising shower gel or soap alternative
  • Avoid sweating or ensure shower if you sweat excessively
  • Apply a basic moisturiser
  • Avoid scratching dry or itchy skin as this can lead to further inflammation and infection

Note: Itching can lead to inflammation and infection. Your Dermal Clinician can help with advice and products.

As the immunity of the skin is compromised during cancer treatment, acne eruptions may affect the more sebaceous areas of the body. The face and torso are the most effected. Acne infection is persistent through chemotherapy and scarring results as the skin’s healing is also delayed. The MLAC Dermal Clinicians can advise on treatment throughout chemotherapy and afterwards.

Acne and acne scarring can be addressed with various gentle laser treatments. A consultation with experienced MLAC Dermal Clinician is necessary to assess the skin’s condition and determine appropriate treatment depending on where you are in cancer treatment process.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can cause changes in the skin and its colour. The skin can develop redness, blotchiness, rashes and develop brown pigmentation. The Dermal Clinicians at MLAC can advise on treatment and skin products to address these concerns during cancer treatment and following cessation of treatment. Gentle laser treatment can assist in accelerating the healing process and pigmentation clearance.

Cancer treatment causes increased sun sensitivity, therefore protect your skin from the sun! Face and exposed body areas: use 50+ SPF sunscreen. A mineral power with 15-20+ SPF can be applied to further protect your face or invisible zinc over your sunscreen in summer and when outdoors wear a large brim hat.

Surgical scars from Breast Cancer surgery, mastectomy, breast reconstruction and port insertion/removal can often result in red or hyperpigmented thickened and rope-like scarring. These scars can impact how patients feel about themselves, often causing heightened anxiety, lack of self confidence and depression.

The MLAC Dermal Clinicians are highly experienced and specialise in advanced scar reduction techniques. Non-surgical scar treatment options such as Fractional mixed laser resurfacing and other scar remodelling procedures are offered to provide enhanced self-confidence and appearance. A comprehensive assessment is the first step. Call (03) 8686 5786 to speak to a Senior Dermal Clinician today.

A comprehensive consultation with a MLAC Senior Dermal Clinician or Cosmetic Registered Nurse allows for proper assessment and treatment plan development. Please call our clinical experts on (03) 8686 5786.

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