bowel cancer treatment

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, helping to raise awareness of the cancer and its symptoms. Did you know that bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK? It is also the second biggest cancer killer, with more than 42,000 people diagnosed with the condition each year.

If diagnosed early, most patients will survive thanks to advanced treatment options. Going through bowel cancer treatment can cause a lot of unpleasant side effects including skin side effects. However, there are some treatment options available that can help.

Here, you’ll discover how you can look after your skin whilst having bowel cancer treatment.

What type of skin issues can cancer treatment cause?

Approximately half of people treated for cancer will develop a dermatologic issue during treatment affecting hair, skin or nails. Skin side effects of treatment can make an already very difficult time in a patient’s life even more difficult. Chemotherapy, radiotherapy or targeted treatments work by killing cancer cells, while immunotherapy treatments work by boosting the body’s own immune system. These effects can have repercussions not just on the target organ but also on other organ systems including the skin.

The side effects which we commonly see include:

  • Itchy, more sensitive, dry skin
  • Skin that can develop infections much more easily
  • Nail changes
  • Hair loss
  • Sun sensitive or photosensitive skin
  • Pigmentation issues either darker or lighter skin
  • Hand-foot syndrome
  • Blisters

Less commonly we see:

  • Allergic or toxicity reactions
  • Non-melanoma skin cancers

Skin changes are often based on the type of treatment you are receiving. Some very specific types of rashes occur with specific drugs for example acneiform rashes occur commonly with EGFR inhibitors. These specific types of reactions are often the typical ones seen in patients on targeted therapy in the treatment of bowel cancer.

How can you protect your skin?

When you are going through cancer treatment of any kind, it is important to keep the skin protected. The products you choose should be designed with sensitive skin in mind.

The skin barrier is our protective layer on the outside of our skin. This protects from moisture loss, effects of allergens and irritants and infections. To enhance this rather than waiting for skin problems to develop before commencing cancer treatment take steps to enhance this barrier by taking action to minimize skin effects a few weeks prior to starting cancer treatments.

You can adapt your skincare regime by considering the following by exchanging soaps for mild gentle fragrance-free soap substitutes or washes. Prior to starting treatment, you will want to keep the skin well moisturised. It is important to use a lightweight, hydrating product that aims to keep the skin balanced.

During your treatment, your skin will also be more sensitive to sunlight. This makes using sunscreen important. Again, choosing a lightweight lotion is ideal, and it should have a high SPF with both UVA and UVB protection. For those with acne prone skin conditions, oil-free SPF formulations are helpful. Look out for ones that contain additional antioxidants and DNA repair enzymes.

Try to maintain a skincare routine that focuses on products for sensitive skin, avoiding any harsh exfoliants or acids.

Dr Kara Heelan is a specialist in oncodermatology, which is the area of dermatology that supports oncology patients with their skincare. For more advice on how best to care for your skin while undergoing cancer treatment, call us on 020 8661 3372 to arrange a consultation with Dr Heelan.