Caring for the Patient With Cancer at Home

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Skin dryness

Skin color changes

Skin color changes usually happen because there’s some type of change in the body. For example, a person may look yellow because of liver problems, blue because of breathing problems, bruised because of blood disorders, or red because of skin problems. Changes in the skin can be due to tumor growth, sun exposure, or the side effects of chemo or radiation therapy. Some color changes may improve over time, while others may be permanent.

What to look for

  • Yellowish color of the skin and/or the whites of the eyes
  • Deep orange to brown urine
  • White or clay-colored (light brown or gray-looking) stools
  • Bruises or areas of blue or purple skin that have no known cause
  • Trouble breathing (If present, see the section called “Shortness of breath.”)
  • Redness or rash on skin
  • Swelling in an area that’s discolored
  • Itching (See the section called “Itching.”)

What the patient can do

  • Clean the skin gently with warm water, gentle soap, and a soft cloth.
  • Rinse the red or rash-covered area carefully and pat dry.
  • Apply water-repellent salve, such as petroleum jelly or A & D ointment. Expose the affected skin to air whenever possible.
  • Protect the affected area from heat and cold.
  • Wear loose-fitting, soft clothing.
  • Apply medicines prescribed for skin reactions.
  • Protect all of your skin from the sun. (For instance, wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and long-sleeved shirts when outside.)
  • Put broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher on any skin exposed to the sun. Apply every 2 hours if in the sun, and again after bathing or sweating.

What caregivers can do

  • Keep track of any new medicines, soaps, detergents, or foods that may have caused a rash.
  • If a patient’s hands are affected, do not let the patient do tasks involving hot water.
  • Offer gentle massages with moisturizing lotions or creams.

Call the doctor if the patient:

  • Has urine that remains dark or orange for a day or more
  • Has stool that looks white or clay colored for 2 or more bowel movements
  • Develops a yellowish color of the skin or in the whites of the eyes
  • Has severe itching (See the section called “Itching.”)
  • Has bruises that do not go away within a week, or new bruises that continue to appear for 3 days
  • Has red or rash-like areas on the skin

Last Medical Review: 11/05/2013
Last Revised: 11/05/2013