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Part I: Cancer and Skin Changes—Dehydration

By: Patricia Ringos Beach and Katie Morgan-Lousky
Posted: February 28, 2012, from the March 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
This mural, featuring tiles created by Ahava Spa and Wellness Center's "special guests," hangs in the facility's reception area.

This mural, featuring tiles created by Ahava Spa and Wellness Center's "special guests," hangs in the facility's reception area.

Editor’s note: This article is the first part of a three-part series about how cancer affects the skin. The next two parts will appear in the April and May 2012 issues, respectively. Skin care professionals must seek specialized training before offering the services addressed in this series.

Sue was one of our spa’s first “special guests,” a woman with cancer. She was 55 and had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer; cancer that had spread beyond the breast and was controllable but not curable. Like Sue, more people are being diagnosed with—and are surviving—cancer than ever before. According to the American Cancer Society, a staggering 11.7 million Americans alive today have a history of cancer; some are cancer-free, some still have evidence of cancer and some are currently undergoing treatment. It is estimated that more than 1.6 million new cases will be diagnosed in 2012 alone, and that 68% of all people diagnosed with cancer will survive five or more years.

These people often become clients in spas, or want to receive the restorative services that spas offer. Skin care professionals need to become familiar with the changes to the skin that result from cancer treatment so they can become more skilled in providing services to these clients. This three-part series presents an overview of skin changes related to cancer treatment and recommendations for skin care that will aid these particularly vulnerable clients to be most comfortable with their own beauty.


Every cancer is a disease in which cells have undergone changes making them resistant to the usual constraints of normal growth and development. Particularly devastating is the loss of boundaries allowing cancer to start in one organ and spread to others. This is called metastasis, and metastatic disease is often the reason people die of cancer. To illustrate how important this is, consider a woman with breast cancer. If it wasn’t for the ability of cancer to metastasize to vital organs, such as the liver, lungs or brain, no one would die of breast cancer. A woman can live without a breast, or without both breasts, but she cannot live when cancer destroys the liver, lungs or brain.

Medical treatment for cancer usually involves surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. These treatments are most often used in combination to stop the cancer growth where the tumor is and in distant places where it may metastasize. The effects on the skin can be harsh.

  • Surgery. This breaks the integrity of the skin, weakens the first barrier the body has to infection and alters the appearance.
  • Radiation therapy. The high energy x-rays used for radiation therapy damage all layers of the skin in the treatment area. See Skin Care Recommendations for Clients Undergoing Radiation.
  • Chemotherapy. The medications used in chemotherapy are given by vein or as a pill, and travel via the blood throughout the body. They may cause discoloration, bruising, infection, itchiness, increased sensitivity to sunlight, dryness, peeling or acnelike rashes.

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Oncology Esthetics: A Practitioner's Guide REVISED AND EXPANDED EDITION
Author: Morag Currin

Color Images! New chapters on breast cancer, ethnic skin, an updated/expanded drug guide of common and new drugs and much more. This book was written just for you in an organized, no-nonsense way to help you understand the different cancers, the therapies and sensitivities.

Oncology Esthetics Revised and Expanded Edition has been written with heartfelt sensitivity in order to give you the information you need to treat clients who are cancer survivors or are undergoing treatment for cancer.