Breast cancer is the second most common kind of cancer in women, with one in eight women diagnosed with the condition in their lifetimes. But the good news is that most women can survive breast cancer if it’s caught and treated early. That’s why Breast Cancer Awareness Month is considered so important.
Diagnosing breast cancer usually involves an initial appointment with a GP, which will include an examination and a referral for a mammogram or ultra sound at a hospital. If necessary, a biopsy may be taken. A mammogram is usually for older patients, where breast tissue is less dense, and includes an X-Ray of the breast. Women over the age of 50 are often invited for breast cancer screening every three years as the risk of breast cancer increases with age.
Treatments for breast cancer include surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Unfortunately treatments for breast cancer can also affect your skin at times, leaving it dry or flaky and more sensitive to exposure to sun, wind and other elements.
Skin care during chemotherapy
Chemotherapy can affect your skin’s natural moisture because it reduces the amount of oil your glands secrete.
There are many things you can do to prevent skin problems during chemotherapy:
- Avoid long, hot showers or baths.
- Use gentle, fragrance-free soaps and laundry detergent.
- Use moisturizers, preferably creams or ointments rather than lotions because the thicker consistency is better at preventing skin dehydration. Apply the cream or ointment within 15 minutes of showering. Reapply moisturizer at night and moisturize your hands every time after you wash them.
- Some chemotherapy drugs make skin more susceptible to sunburn. Use a sunscreen with at least an SPF 30 and make sure it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
- Chemotherapy patients don’t need to avoid the sun. Just be smart about sun exposure. Use a broad-brimmed hat, sun-protective clothing and an SPF of 30 reapplied every two hours if you’re outside – more if you are swimming or sweating.
- Itching is also common and can stem from multiple causes: the chemotherapy drug, a patient’s naturally dry skin (particularly in people over 50), or as a symptom of the cancer itself.
- While many patients aim for itch relief with over-the counter hydrocortisone creams, they’re often too weak to be effective. Instead, itching can be treated with a prescription-strength steroid cream. If itching interferes with sleep, oral medications might work.
- Skin can also go through colour changes during chemotherapy, particularly with breast or colon cancer treatment. Sometimes, the hands or face are affected, which can make a patient feel self-conscious. If this happens bleaching creams and exfoliants can be tried.
- Swimming is fine for chemo patients as long as there are no open sores on your skin. However, hot tubs aren’t a good idea. They can cause more blood flow to the skin, which can lead to greater blood flow to areas of inflammation.
Skin care during radiotherapy
Radiation to the breast causes skin changes:
- In all races, the skin colour will change – lighter skin will turn red; dark skin will get darker or become ashen. Usually the affected areas are limited to small patches. There can be some itching, burning and tenderness of the skin. You may have some dry peeling, like old sunburn, as the skin rubs off.
- The skin generally heals quickly and completely. The red reaction goes away the fastest. The change-over to tan shading, if you have light skin, can take a few weeks to go away. In women of colour, the darkening of the skin can be more significant and may also take longer to disappear.
- Ordinary freckles and moles can become much darker within the treatment field. These spots are almost always benign, but they will darken because of the treatment. After you finish radiation, they usually return to their normal colour, and some eventually disappear.
Many products can help ease your way through treatment. These include aloe and aquaphor. In addition, at some point you may need to use some type of steroid cream, such as a 1% hydrocortisone cream. Some women also benefit from a prescription-strength steroid cream.< Back