Cancer treatment can affect the fast-growing cells in your nails, leading to changes in the fingernails or toenails. Although the severity differs from person to person, nail changes may be visible and uncomfortable, and can at times affect your daily activities such as buttoning your shirt. Examples of nail changes include nail breakages, darkening, surrounding swelling and redness. Many of these changes begin to improve a few weeks after the completion of treatment, but care should be taken during the treatment phase to decrease discomfort and prevent complications.
Causes of Nail changes
Some cancer treatment are more likely to cause nail changes than others. These include:
What you need to look out for
Not all people will experience nail changes, but if you do, they usually occur about 3-6 weeks after starting cancer treatment. Some of them may include:
Unlike those caused by chemotherapy, nails changes caused by targeted therapies usually come in the form of nail fold infections (paronychia) and red skin growths around the nails that bleed easily (pyogenic granulomas).
How it can be treated
Most nail problems are temporary, and should heal within a few weeks. Marks on nails will grow out in time. Taking care of your nails to prevent complications is the best treatment for nail problems (see section on “What you can do” below). If you develop a bacterial or fungal infection around your nails, your doctor may prescribe you with antibiotic or antifungal therapy.
What you can do
The following are some of the do’s and don’ts to help you manage nail changes, as well as prevent further complications:
Prevent nail damage
When to call your cancer care team
Please inform your doctor or nurse as soon as you notice any signs of inflammation or infection over your nails:
If you have any questions regarding the above information, please call Cancer Helpline at +65 6225 5655 or approach your doctor or nurse for further details.
The above contents have been approved by the Cancer Education Information Service, National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), for people with cancer and their families and caregivers.
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