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Cancer and Skin Changes: Acnelike Rash

Steve was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, and was receiving chemotherapy and targeted therapy, and his treatment plan was designed to stop the cancer’s progression. He was experiencing an acnelike rash on his face due to the drugs he was receiving to treat his cancer.

By: Patricia Ringos Beach and Katie Morgan-Lousky
Posted: May 30, 2014, from the June 2014 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Skin side effects associated with chemotherapy are generally not life-threatening, but care and treatment can be life-enhancing, helping to significantly improve quality of life. Not only is skin fragile because of cancer treatments, but also the majority of clients receiving targeted therapies experience an acnelike rash. In most cases, the rash appears on the face, scalp, chest, back and around the ears. Although labeled as acne, this is not the same as teenage acne. Why this acne occurs is not well understood. The signaling pathways for the formation of the skin layers are thought to be disrupted. There are not increased glandular secretions.

Some physicians may try to prevent the acnelike rash or treat it with antibiotics and/or steroid creams. Some may refer to a dermatologist. These rashes gradually disappear when treatment ends without any long-term consequences. Although not considered life-threatening, these skin changes are difficult and have caused some people to stop treatments.

Initial assessment and analysis. It is tempting to diagnose a client’s needs by virtue of experience. Of course experience helps, but first, a reminder about getting back to the basics. You should be using an intake form. The responses to the following questions will generate invaluable information.

You don’t need a full medical history, but this simple assessment will help you choose which ingredients should be introduced into the treatment plan using a holistic approach. It was important to assess how much Steve had already gone through before selecting the right treatment for his acne.

Preparation and approach. Based on the information learned, it is important to prepare the treatment room with gentle touches, including linens, scents and music that are peaceful. Aromatherapy—such as sweet orange or grapefruit to decrease nausea and improve mood—is often used. (See Approaching Clients With Cancer.)

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