- Caring for the Patient With Cancer at Home: A Guide for Patients and Families
- Anxiety and fear
- Appetite, poor
- Blood counts
- Blood in stool
- Blood in urine
- Fluids and dehydration
- Grooming and appearance
- Hair loss
- Leg cramps
- Mouth, bleeding in
- Mouth dryness
- Mouth sores
- Nausea and vomiting
- Scars and wounds
- Shortness of breath
- Skin color changes
- Skin dryness
- Skin (pressure) sores
- Sleep problems
- Steroids and hormones
- Stomas (or ostomies)
- Swallowing problems
- Treatment at home
- Tubes and IV lines
- Weight changes
- When death is approaching
- To learn more
Itching can cause restlessness, anxiety, skin sores, and infection. Common causes of itching in people with cancer include dry skin, changes in the blood, allergies, side effects of medicines, and chemo or radiation therapy. Other illnesses and certain kinds of cancer can also cause itching.
What to look for
- Dry, red, rough, flaky skin
- A yellow color of the skin or of the whites of eyes
- Rash or bumps
- Scratch marks
- Skin sores
- Scratching without thinking about it
What the patient can do
To soothe the skin:
- Apply skin creams with a water-soluble base, such as aloe vera or menthol-based lotion, 2 to 3 times a day, especially after a bath when the skin is damp. Or use calamine lotion (Caladryl®) or witch hazel if they soothe the itching, but note that they can cause dryness.
- Use warm water for bathing instead of hot water.
- Add baking soda, oatmeal (in a cloth or mesh bag), or bath oil to bath water.
- Wash your skin gently using a mild, unscented soap.
- Use baking soda instead of deodorant.
- Avoid using scented or alcohol-based products on the skin (such as powders, after-shaves, perfumes). Cornstarch-based powders may clump in moist areas and cause irritation.
- Use an electric razor rather than a blade to avoid cuts and irritation.
- Change your bed sheets daily.
- Keep your room cool (60° to 70° F) and well ventilated to avoid sweating.
- Drink plenty of water and other fluids.
- Get enough rest.
To reduce the desire to scratch:
- Apply cool, wet packs (crushed ice in a plastic bag that is then wrapped in a towel) to the skin. Remove the pack when it becomes warm, and let your skin dry. Use again as needed.
- Keep nails clean and short. Wear clean fabric gloves if you scratch without thinking about it.
- Try rubbing, pressure, cool cloths, or vibration instead of scratching. Avoid breaking the skin. Get gentle massages at night.
- Wear loose clothing made of a soft fabric.
- Distract yourself with music, reading, and the company of others.
- Take medicines for itching as prescribed by your doctor.
What caregivers can do
- Try using mild, unscented detergents to wash the patient's clothes and bedding.
- If the patient scratches in their sleep, ask them to wear clean cotton gloves which may reduce skin damage.
Call the doctor if the patient:
- Has itching that does not go away after 2 or more days
- Develops a yellowish color of the skin or has urine the color of tea
- Scratches skin until it is open or bleeding
- Has a rash that gets worse after creams or ointments have been applied
- Has foul-smelling drainage or has pus coming from the skin
- Becomes very anxious and restless (cannot sleep through the night due to itching)
- Develops hives (itchy white or red welts on the skin), shortness of breath, swelling of the throat or face, or other symptoms of a severe allergic reaction
Last Medical Review: 03/24/2011
Last Revised: 08/11/2011