Skin and nail changes commonly affect those undergoing treatment for cancer. Skin cancer may require surgical treatment resulting in scarring and change in appearance. Rashes and itchy or dry skin are common side effects of some drug therapies as well as radiotherapy. In some cases, the rash may look like a bad case of acne. The skin may become darker (hyperpigmentation) with some chemotherapies1, or more sensitive to sunlight after chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Some drug treatments may cause inflamed and painful nails of the fingers and toes, or even the separation of the nail from the nail bed. A side effect of other drug treatments is a painful condition of the palms of the hands and soles of the feet called hand-foot syndrome.2
Cover the affected or treated skin and protect from the sun, wind and extreme temperatures. The appearance of some skin conditions may cause a person to feel embarrassed or insecure about their appearance. If the nails or skin are painful, torn or bleeding, this can limit mobility and function.
What you can do
Speak to your healthcare team for advice about the management of bothersome skin or nail changes. There are some treatment options, including antibiotics and topical steroids, which can be very helpful. Use gentle cleansers and emollient creams that are free of perfume, alcohol and other drying agents. Avoid sun exposure as this can exacerbate dry skin. You may use dermatologist-approved cosmetics to cover redness and skin eruptions.
For all skin cancer prevention, wear sun protective clothing, apply sunscreen, and try to avoid direct sunlight. For more information on sun protection, see the Canadian Cancer Society website under Being Safe in the Sun or the BC Cancer Agency website under Sun Safety.
Modify your work tasks and how you work:
- If photosensitive, ask for alternative duties that do not require outdoor work.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeve shirts and pants while working outdoors. If your work requires a uniform, request alternative clothing options that would allow you to be protected from the sun.
Painful fingers and hands
- Wear protective gloves that are suited to your work tasks. Thin cotton gloves can be worn indoors for comfort. Waterproof gloves should be used in tasks that frequently expose your hands to liquid if nails are damaged.
- Use electric tools in place of manual tools when possible.
- Adapt the handles of commonly used equipment by covering surfaces with fabric textures or padding to increase comfort.
- Experiment with “building up” handles of tools with foam pipe insulation to increase the handle’s diameter which requires less grip strength to hold tool.
- Use a headset if you are frequently on the telephone.
- For jobs that involve computer use and typing, consider using speech recognition software. Alternatives to mice and or switches accessed by other body parts are options for very sensitive fingertips.
- Contact your local occupational therapist for possible hand exercises to increase strength and coordination if this is an issue. A desensitization program may also be helpful in decreasing sensitivity.
Painful toenails and feet
- Wear well fitting, supportive footwear with a closed heel and rubber sole.
- Contact your local foot specialist to receive an assessment for a custom-made off-loading insole to reduce pressure on your feet.3
- Work in a standing position and sit down when you’re able. Use a stand-lean chair if possible; if not, keep a rest-chair nearby.
- Use an anti-fatigue mat under surfaces where you frequently stand or add anti-fatigue surfaces to your shoes.
- Consider using a mobility aid to reduce weight load to your feet such as a walker.
- Other mobility aids may also be helpful in managing mobility when you have foot pain. Assessment by a local therapist (physical therapist, occupational therapist) may be best to help you find an appropriate mobility aid.
Modify your work environment:
Painful toenails and feet
- Request parking close to your work entrance.
- Relocate your workstation closer to the washroom, break room or other frequently used space.
- Limit repetitive tasks on your feet and try to vary them.
- Avoid tasks that expose your hands to extreme heat, such as dishwashing.
- Limit tasks which involve repetitive friction on hands:
- Use electric tools to replace manual effort.
- Reduce repetitive tasks and vary these tasks with other duties.
- Adapt the handles of commonly used equipment by covering surfaces with fabric textures or padding to decrease friction.
- Request parking close to work entrance.
- Relocate your workstation closer to the washroom, break room, or other frequently used space.