This patient summary on
This summary is about pruritus in adults with cancer.
Persons with various
malignantdiseases that are known to produce symptomsof pruritus, including, but not limited to AIDS-related Kaposi sarcoma, Hodgkin lymphomaand other lymphomas, leukemias, adenocarcinomas, and cancer of the stomach, pancreas, lung, colon, brain, breast, and prostate. Pruritus tends to disappear when cancer is curedor in remission. It may reappear when the disease recurs.
Persons who have had
chemotherapy. Usually the itching subsides within 30-90 minutes and does not require treatment. The development of pruritus may be a sign that the patient is especially sensitive to the chemotherapy drug.
Persons who have had
radiation therapy. Radiationcan kill skin cellsand cause burning and itching. As the skin peels off, scratching can damage it further, which creates the potential for infection. Treatment may need to be interrupted to allow the skin time to heal.
Persons who have had radiation therapy plus chemotherapy. The combined effects of these drugs can cause an increased skin reaction.
Persons who have had
biological response modifier therapy(a treatment to try to improve the body's natural immune responseto disease).
Persons who have had
bone marrow transplantation. Patients may experience changes in skin condition that include dryness, itching, and rashes.
Drugs given at any time during cancer treatment may cause pruritus. Itching may be caused by sensitivity to the drug, or the drug may interfere with normal
Pruritus can be a symptom of infection. The infection may or may not be related to cancer treatment. Infections involving itching may be caused by a
Pruritus is a symptom, not a
Maintaining healthy skin may relieve
Some specific factors that may relieve itching are the following:
Moisturizing creams and lotions. These water-containing products form films over the skin surface and encourage the production of moisture beneath the film. This prevents dryness, which can cause itching. These products should be carefully chosen for each person's needs. Some ingredients, such as
petrolatum, lanolin, and mineral oilcan cause allergicreactions in some people.
Powders, bubble baths, and cornstarch. These products should be used with caution because they can irritate the skin and cause itching. Cornstarch is an effective treatment for itching that is associated with dry skin due to
radiation therapybut should not be applied to moist surfaces, to areas with hair, sweat glands, skin folds, or to areas close to mucosalsurfaces, such as the vaginaor rectum. When cornstarch becomes moist, it can promote fungalgrowth. Some powders, such as those that contain talcumand aluminum, can cause skin irritation during radiation therapy and should be avoided when you are receiving radiation treatment. Alcoholor menthol, which are found in some creams and over-the-counterlotions, may also produce skin reactions. Topical steroid creamsmay reduce itching but may cause thinning of the skin and can make it more prone to injury.
Tepid baths. Baths that are moderately warm and last no longer than one half hour every day or every two days can help relieve itching. Frequent bathing can aggravate dry skin, and hot baths can promote itching.
Mild soaps. Mild soaps contain less soap or detergent that can irritate skin. Oil can be added to the water at the end of a bath or applied to the skin before drying.
A cool humid environment. Heat can cause itching. Your skin loses moisture when the humidity is low. A cool, humid environment may prevent your skin from itching.
Removal of detergent residue. Residue left on clothing by detergent and fabric softeners may aggravate pruritus. The irritation can be reduced by adding vinegar (one teaspoon per quart of water) to the laundry rinse cycle or by using a mild laundry soap that is sold for washing baby clothes.
Cotton clothing and bed sheets. Body heat, wool, and some
syntheticfabrics can aggravate itching. It may be helpful to wear loose-fitting, lightweight cotton clothing and to use cotton bed sheets.
In addition to the skin-care factors,
Interrupting the itch-scratch-itch cycle, an increase in itching that can result from the process of scratching, may also help to alleviate pruritus. The cycle may be broken by applying a cool washcloth or ice over the affected area. Rubbing the skin and applying pressure or vibration to the skin may also help. Other methods that may be useful in relieving
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Changes to This Summary (08/03/2011)
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