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Nail damage and cancer treatments



Several cancer treatments can damage the nails in a number of different ways. The most obvious and severe damage is caused by chemotherapy. particularly the taxanes  taxotere and taxol. Milder damage can be caused by the biological agents such as sutent, nexavar, vorient or even herceptin. Some women report that hormone drugs such as tamoxifen and the aromoatase inhibitors  can cause the nails to flake. 

Nail damage and chemotherapy. The degree of nail damage depends on:

 - The individual sensitivity to the drugs
 - The dose received
 - How many cycles are given
 - How the nails are cared for during chemotherapy.

Types of nail damage: The earliest and mildest damage results in white lines across the nail which after a while look like the rings of a tree. These actually correspond to the cycles of chemotherapy. Next the nails can get weak, brittle, can crack and break easily. After several treatment cycles you may experience a change in the colour of your nails. In more severe cases the nails can start lifting from the nail beds and ooze clear fluid from underneath them, they will be very uncomfortable and often painful. In this situation they often become infected and the clear fluid turns to pus. If this happens a swab should be taken and often antibiotics given.



What can you do to help your nails during chemotherapy (self care guidelines)?

[1] Cool the nail beds: Chapter 14 of the book "Lifestyle after Cancer" describes a technique which has been evaluated in clinical trials and used throughout Europe but largely ignored in the UK. It involves cooling of the nail beds during the chemotherapy infusion and for 20 minutes afterwards. You can use cool water but specifically designed gloves are available in France. For more details you can also link to the case report published in the Medical Journal Focus on Cancer Medicine.

[2] Moisturise the nail beds: We have teamed up with a natural cream maker (see link below) to develop a nail balm which that contains only  natural waxes and rare essential oils selected for their anti-inflammatory and DNA stabilizing properties. This cream can be used on the lips or the nail beds. We recommend massaging onto the nail bed three time a day for the duration of the chemotherapy.

[3] Protect the nails; Anecdotal reports have suggested that  nail varnish can protect the nails - it certainly covers up the discolouration and may prevent splitting and flaking.

[4] Keep the nails clean short and protected from trauma - wear gloves when gardening or washing the dishes for example.


Other useful links and further resources:

What is cancerAbout specific cancers; Breast | Prostate | Bowel.  Cancer treatments; Chemotherapy | Radiotherapy | Hormones | Biological agents | Complementary.  Lifestyle advice; Exercise | Diet | Smoking | Sunbathing | Alcohol.  Cope with symptomsTraveling | Insurance | Making a will | Support groups  | Tests for cancer | Clinical trials. ...site map
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This 21 minute DVD explains chemotherapy & radiotherapy. The only preparatory film which was evaluated in a randomised study and shown to reduce anxiety and improve well-being during treatments. Available in English, Italian, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati & Hindi   ... read more / order online

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