Staying healthy is really important when you are on chemotherapy. One of the biggest – and most preventable – health problems for us chemo patients are skin infections. The skin is our biggest organ and it’s exposed to the outside world that is full of germs.
As a dermatologist, I know that skin infections can become very serious, especially in people who are immune suppressed such as those on chemotherapy. During this last year I received four months of very strong chemotherapy for the treatment of hereditary breast cancer. I used my training for my own benefit and I took special steps to protect my skin from infection. My strategy worked, which is why I want to share it with other chemotherapy patients. This information is NOT a substitute for advice and care from your treating physician – it is informational and educational only and can be brought to your physician’s attention to help you discuss your own personal care. As a chemo patient you are fragile and all of your personal care choices need to be discussed with your oncology team.
We know that everyone’s skin is constantly exposed to a myriad of potentially dangerous germs, both at home, out in public, and sometimes from our own bodies. On chemo, I wanted to avoid any infection that would need treatment with oral antibiotics. As a doctor, I know that if I was given oral antibiotics I could suffer from yeast infections, more drug side effects, more overall suffering, and ultimately I could even need prescriptions for anti-fungals medicines.
As cancer patients, we face additional skin infection threats because our well-meaning medical team is constantly poking, prodding, and cutting open our skin for tests, treatments, and surgical procedures – all while our immune system is compromised. We also get breaks in our skin due to the itchy rashes we get from medicines and surgical tape adhesive. All breaks in our skin are at risk for infection. I’m sure the steps I took saved me at least two different courses of antibiotics for minor skin problems that I “fixed” with good skin care and wound care, and I’m grateful.
Here are the steps I took to protect my skin during my chemotherapy. They are steps that apply to anyone prone to skin infections, not just cancer patients.