Cancer, Health,

Cancer Treatment Problem: Itchy Skin (Pruritis)

Dehydration, the release of specific enzymes by certain kinds of tumors, as well as the effects of the progress of cancer and its treatment can cause intense itching of the skin known as pruritis. Stimuli that can initiate the itching sensation include heat, inflammation, constriction due to tight clothing, and the presence of chemical irritants.

Patients can do a number of things to alleviate the itching and they can learn how to react to it. They should:

  • Lubricate the skin with a water-based, rather than oil-based, moisturizer.
  • Drink large amounts of fluids, at least eight to ten glasses a day.
  • Protect the skin from wind and temperature extremes.
  • Keep indoor temperatures cool and stay out of the sun on very hot days, remaining indoors if there is a fan or air conditioner.
  • Use only cool or lukewarm water in showers and baths. Comstarch, baking soda, oatmeal (Aveeno), or soybean powder added to the bath may be soothing.
  • Apply cool wet packs every twenty minutes, remove, and allow the skin to air-dry. Reapply as necessary.
  • Avoid excessive exercise.
  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight cotton and avoid wool, corduroy, or other scratchy fabrics. Lightweight cotton nightclothes and a cotton thermal blanket are also helpful.
  • The doctor may prescribe antihistamines for generalized itching, or corticosteroid creams for small areas of itching. Local anesthetics may also be used.
  • A large part of controlling itching is learning not to scratch, since the itch-scratch-itch syndrome can actually become a conditioned response that makes itching worse. The following methods may help the patient suffering from intense itching:
  • Applying cool, wet packs, an ice bag, or stroking with a piece of ice.
  • Distraction, relaxation techniques, and positive imagery.
  • Using a vibrator or putting pressure on the itchy spot with the thumb, fingertips, or heel of the hand.