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Part I: Cancer and Skin Changes—Dehydration

Patricia Ringos Beach and Katie Morgan-Lousky March 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine
This mural, featuring tiles created by Ahava Spa and Wellness Center

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

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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.


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Skin Care Recommendations for Clients Undergoing Radiation

  • Good general hygiene is important.
  • Cleanse skin in the treatment area with lukewarm water, and use a mild moisturizing soap.
  • Pat the skin dry; do not rub with a towel or washcloth.
  • Do not massage, rub or scratch the treated area.
  • Do not apply any ointment, cream, lotion, powder or perfume to the skin in the treated area unless ordered or recommended by the radiation therapy physician.
  • Do not wash off any marks placed on the skin unless instructed to do so by radiation therapy staff. These marks, along with the permanent tattoos, are necessary for accuracy in daily treatments.
  • Avoid temperature extremes in the treated area, including hot water bottles, heating pads, heat-producing ointments and ice packs.
  • Avoid exposure to direct sunlight in the treated area.

Aromatherapy Tips for Clients With Cancer

  • Roman chamomile, geranium, lavender, tea tree, lemon, bergamot and cedarwood essential oils are commonly used.
  • Aromatherapy is used for cancer patients in order to improve their quality of life, not treat their cancer.
  • It may work by affecting the smell receptors in the nose, triggering chemical messages along nerve pathways to the brain’s limbic system, which affects moods and emotions.

—From The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health

Touch and the Client With Cancer

  • There is always a safe way to use touch or to offer someone with cancer a simple form of massage.
  • Simply holding with no pressure or placing your hands nearby instead of directly on a site is advised when pressure may be hurtful.
  • Avoid stretching the skin where the skin is fragile.
  • Presence is very important with touch. Give your full attention to what you are doing at that moment. Presence may be communicated by easing in gradually and gently, using soft hands and taking hands away gently.
  • Certification programs for massage therapy and cancer care are available, and training should take place before offering oncology services in your skin care facility.


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