We understand that with chemotherapy comes a lot of do’s and don’ts, and we here at The Cancer Doctors want to try to make things as easy for our cancer patients as possible, so we’ve come up with some Healthy Tips for living with chemo.
Today’s tips are all about nail care during chemo.
1. Nail Growths: Chemotherapy drugs may contain an agent that can cause growths under or next to the nails. These growths (called pyogenic granulomas) can be very painful and may bleed easily. As a result, it is important to report any signs of a growth on your fingernails or toenails to your nurses. Furthermore, it is important to be more careful with your hands due to the sensitivity of the growths. However, they may be eligible for surgical removal so ask your physicians about the options available to you!
2. Nail Peels: Another common agent in chemotherapy drugs can cause your nail to separate from its nail bed, a condition called onycholysis. Most occurrences of onycholysis are painless, but a certain type of onycholysis (hemorrhagic onycholysis) can be painful and cause bleeding of the nail beds. Onycholysis tends to occur when nails are longer, so keeping your nails short and clean may help alleviate or prevent the condition. Furthermore, doing so will help prevent bacteria from infecting your nail beds! If this occurs, be sure to let your nurse know – he or she may be able to recommend a treatment for the infection.
3. Nail Tips: Other common problems may include small fissures in the fingertips, brittle nails, or swelling around the nails. Swelling can be treated with soothing nail soaks or antibiotics, whereas prescription treatments for brittle nails may be recommended to you by nurses or your physician. Some common treatments include Genadur and Nuvail but there are plenty of others on the market; however, be sure to consult a medical professional before buying one. Another way to avoid irritating sensitive nails is to avoid excessive moisture. If you need to wash dishes or participate in other activities involving water, wear rubber or plastic gloves. Finally, avoid nail polishes! If your nails are already sensitive or damaged, the polishes and nail polish removers can be extremely irritating to your exposed nail beds.
4. Preventative Treatments: There are several steps that could help prevent nail problems before they start. If you are worried about the health of your nails, talk to your doctor about the possibility of cryotherapy (deep cooling). Cryotherapy involves cooling your fingertips with ice packs before, during, and after chemotherapy, which can help decrease the amount of chemotherapy drugs that reach your fingers. This helps prevent your nails from being as drastically affected by the agents in the drugs. Another helpful step is keeping your nails cut short – the longer they are, the more likely they are to begin peeling from your nail beds. Finally, avoid removing your cuticles either by cutting them or by chemically removing them! If your cuticles are feeling rough, use cuticle creams to soften them, as removing them increases your chances of an infection.
5. If You Don’t Have Nail Issues: If you are receiving chemotherapy and you have not observed a change in the health of your nails, you are welcome to continue the same activities you engaged in before, like getting manicures, pedicures, or painting your nails at home. However, cancer treatments weaken your immune system so you are more prone to infection. Therefore, if you have an active infection or an open wound, avoid going to a nail salon. If you do go to a nail salon, avoid using the whirlpool footbaths for pedicures – instead get a dry pedicure or one using a clean basin. Avoid removing your callouses by shaving them – instead instruct your technician to scrub them lightly. Finally, avoid cuticle removal and ensure that all tools being used have been sanitized and disinfected. If you’re not sure about the cleanliness of your tools, don’t be afraid to ASK! After all, you are just protecting your own health.