Nerve And Skin Probelms

While your loved one is undergoing chemotherapy, you need to be aware of the symptoms of nerve and skin problems that may require medical treatment.

Nerve And Muscle Effects

Sometimes anticancer drugs can cause problems with your body’s nerves. One example of a condition affecting the nervous system is peripheral neuropathy, where you feel a tingling, burning, weakness, or numbness or pain in the hands and/or feet. Some drugs can also affect the muscles, making them weak, tired, or sore.

Sometimes, these nerve and muscle side effects, though annoying, may not be serious. In other cases, nerve and muscle symptoms may be serious and need medical attention. Be sure to report any nerve or muscle symptoms to your doctor. Most of the time, these symptoms will get better; however, it may take up to a year after your treatment ends.

Some Nerve And Muscle-Related Symptoms Include:

  • Tingling
  • Burning
  • Weakness or numbness in the hands and/or feet
  • Pain when walking
  • Weak, sore, tired or achy muscles
  • Loss of balance
  • Clumsiness
  • Difficulty picking up objects and buttoning clothing
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Walking problems
  • Jaw pain
  • Hearing loss
  • Stomach pain
  • Constipation

How Can I Cope With Nerve And Muscle Problems?

  • If your fingers are numb, be very careful when grasping objects that are sharp, hot, or otherwise dangerous.
  • If your sense of balance or muscle strength is affected, avoid falls by moving carefully, using handrails when going up or down stairs, and using bath mats in the bathtub or shower.
  • Always wear shoes with rubber soles (if possible).
  • Ask your doctor for pain medicine.

Effects On Skin And Nails

You may have minor skin problems while you are having chemotherapy, such as redness, rashes, itching, peeling, dryness, acne, and increased sensitivity to the sun. Certain anticancer drugs, when given intravenously, may cause the skin all along the vein to darken, especially in people who have very dark skin. Some people use makeup to cover the area, but this can take a lot of time if several veins are affected. The darkened areas will fade a few months after treatment ends.

Your nails may also become darkened, yellow, brittle, or cracked. They also may develop vertical lines or bands.

While most of these problems are not serious and you can take care of them yourself, a few need immediate attention. Certain drugs given intravenously (IV) can cause serious and permanent tissue damage if they leak out of the vein. Tell your doctor or nurse right away if you feel any burning or pain when you are getting IV drugs. These symptoms do not always mean there is a problem, but they must always be checked at once. Don’t hesitate to call your doctor about even the less serious symptoms.

Some symptoms may mean you are having an allergic reaction that may need to be treated at once. Call your doctor or nurse right away if:

  • You develop sudden or severe itching.
  • Your skin breaks out in a rash or hives.
  • You have wheezing or any other trouble breathing.

How Can I Cope With Skin And Nail Problems?


  • Try to keep your face clean and dry.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse if you can use over-the-counter medicated creams or soaps.

Itching And Dryness

  • Apply corn starch as you would a dusting powder.
  • To help avoid dryness, take quick showers or sponge baths. Do not take long, hot baths. Use a moisturizing soap.
  • Apply cream and lotion while your skin is still moist.
  • Avoid perfume, cologne, or aftershave lotion that contains alcohol.
  • Use a colloid oatmeal bath or diphenhydramine for generalized pruritis.

Nail Problems

  • You can buy nail-strengthening products in a drug store. Be aware that these products may bother your skin and nails.
  • Protect your nails by wearing gloves when washing dishes, gardening, or doing other work around the house.
  • Be sure to let your doctor know if you have redness, pain, or changes around the cuticles.

Sunlight Sensitivity

  • Avoid direct sunlight as much as possible, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
  • Use a sun screen lotion with a skin protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher to protect against sun damage. A product such as zinc oxide, sold over the counter, can block the sun’s rays completely.
  • Use a lip balm with a sun protection factor.
  • Wear long-sleeve cotton shirts, pants and hats with a wide brim (particularly if you are having hair loss), to block the sun.
  • Even people with dark skin need to protect themselves from the sun during chemotherapy.

© Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Reprinted from Chemotherapy and You: A Guide to Self-Help During Cancer Treatment, NIH Publication #99-1136, developedby the United States National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute, June 1999.

You are in the
Click for related topics:
Heart Disease, HIV/AIDS 
and more...

Caregivers Handbook

This handy guide provides resources, checklists and worksheets
 - all in one place.