Cancer treatment side effect: skin changes

Did you know that cancer treatments can cause changes to your skin? Sometimes these changes are simply cosmetic, but other times they may require attention from your care team. To better understand skin changes that happen during cancer treatment and how best to address these side effects, we spoke with Anisha Patel, M.D. Here’s what she had to say. What types of cancer treatments cause skin changes? All cancer treatments have side effects, but patients are sometimes surprised by the skin changes they see when receiving chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Since these therapies are used to treat a variety of cancers— and we’re constantly expanding and improving their use through clinical trials — skin changes are common. What are common skin changes during cancer treatment? The most common things we see are rashes and dry skin, which may be accompanied by itchiness or burning of the skin. Chemotherapy and immunotherapy can also change the color, or pigment, of the skin, but it’s less common. You may not even notice. Depending on the therapy, you may see lightening or darkening of skin, hair and nails. A less common side effect that we see with newer treatments is the development of new growths, such as moles, warts and raised areas of the skin. It’s important to know that the type of skin side effect you may experience depends on your medical history and the type of treatment you’re receiving, so talk with your doctor about what you should expect. Why do these skin changes happen? Chemotherapy and immunotherapy fight cancer by targeting specific molecules in tumors. Those same molecules are also in...

Lung cancer patient gets a second chance after lobectomy

It was a 5.5-cm tumor wrapped around Jason McFarland’s pulmonary artery that threatened to end his 20-year career as a police officer and, possibly, his life.  He’d sought medical attention after coughing up blood. But at age 42, he never suspected cancer. The doctors near his hometown of Effingham, Illinois, weren’t optimistic about the diagnosis the X-rays and CT scans revealed: stage IIIA non-small cell lung cancer. “It’s going to take a Herculean effort to survive this cancer,” his doctor told him. Jason would need surgery, and because of the tumor’s location, it wouldn’t be easy. The doctor told him it was unlikely he’d get to go back to work and there was a 30% chance he might not make it off the operating table at all. Jason thought of his wife and three children. He thought of the career he loved. He decided to look for other odds. Finding hope at MD Anderson It was a friend who worked in an emergency room that recommended MD Anderson. “If I were you, I’d be in Texas,” he told Jason. A week later, Jason and his wife flew to Houston for an appointment. He met with his care team, which recommended four rounds of chemotherapy, and then a lobectomy, followed by radiation therapy. Jason loved the comradery and compassion among MD Anderson staff and the other patients. But most of all he loved the hope his doctors gave him. Remembering the odds his doctor back in Illinois had given him, he asked his new surgeon, David Rice, M.D., what the chances were that he wouldn’t survive the surgery. Rice told...

Colorectal cancer survivor: Explore your family’s cancer history

As a funeral home owner and operator in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the Rev. Lawrence Meadows knows what it means when doctors start talking about hospice. “That implies you only have about 14 days to live,” he says. “And the next thing you know, you’re getting a sponge of water rubbed across your lips and maybe some ice chips.” That prognosis was unacceptable to Lawrence, who was only 39 last October when he was diagnosed at a local hospital with stage IV colorectal cancer. So, he came to MD Anderson for a second opinion. “When you go buy a car, you’re going to look at as many options as possible to find the best one,” he says. “And if you’d do that for a car, or a house, or even insurance, why wouldn’t you do that for your health?” Weight loss leads to colorectal cancer diagnosis The first sign of trouble was when Lawrence began dropping weight last fall without trying. “I lost between 18 and 25 pounds in about four weeks,” he says. “None of my clothes fit me anymore, and they’re all tailor-made.” He was also experiencing constipation and could only eat a small amount of food before feeling full. The laxative Lawrence’s doctor prescribed didn’t help. So, in October 2016, Lawrence saw a specialist, who ordered a CT scan. It revealed a mass the size of a baseball in his colon. Two days later, Lawrence had surgery to remove it. “I was a bit surprised,” Lawrence recalls. “I’m not a drinker or a smoker. And I eat my vegetables.” Seeking help for colorectal cancer at MD Anderson...

Happier despite esophageal cancer treatment

At first, Richard “Ricky” Harveston couldn’t swallow his hamburger bites. Then, he struggled to drink his milk, and what he managed to get down came right back up. Ricky’s local Orange, Texas, doctor said that he had acid reflux. “But in the back of my mind, I knew what wrong with me,” Ricky says. His dad died from esophageal cancer at age 74, and his half-brother died of the disease at age 46. Like Ricky, both were heavy smokers. So, he went to a local oncologist.  Ricky’s intuition was right. In 2013, at age 53, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. “I cried,” Ricky says. His dad had opted not to be treated, and his half-brother received chemotherapy, but refused radiation, at a free clinic in Mississippi. “My dad dwindled to nothing, and my half-brother’s tumor spread to his brain and spine.” Hoping for a different outcome, Ricky started treatment at a cancer center in southeast Texas. Face esophageal cancer treatment with a strong caregiver “Chemotherapy and radiation almost destroyed me,” Ricky says. “It was so bad, I wanted to quit with only three radiation treatments left and accept death as the consequence.” But, he didn’t quit.    “You have to have a strong caregiver,” Ricky says. His caregiver was his ex-wife, Eileen. “We were married for 10 years and had been divorced for two years when I was diagnosed,” he says. “She wanted to come see me, so I said OK, what do I have to lose?” She hasn’t left his side since. Eileen cared for Ricky nearly 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the...

Finding purpose in a breast cancer diagnosis

Rebecca Stedman believes that every experience had in life serves a purpose, and cancer is no exception. “Just as I felt like I was chosen to have a child with disabilities, I was also chosen to have breast cancer,” she says. Rebecca stepped out of the shower one summer day in 2015 and felt a lump in her left breast. She’d received a clean bill of health during a well-woman exam just four months earlier, so she decided to watch it silently. “I have no cancer history in my family, so I really doubted that it was that. I really thought that it was a cyst, and there was no reason to get all worked up,” she says. “I also didn’t want to acknowledge that it was possibly breast cancer.” A breast cancer diagnosis After two weeks of monitoring the lump, she finally told her husband about it. She went back to her doctor for a second mammogram and ultrasound. A biopsy followed and then a phone call. “They said, ‘We need you to come in, the doctor wants to see you right away.’ As soon as they said that, I knew,” she says. “My husband was at work, and I called and told him, ‘I need you to leave work, I need you to come get me and take me to the doctor’s office right away.’” On Aug. 12, 2015, Rebecca was diagnosed with stage II invasive ductile carcinoma of the left breast. “We’ve had many struggles, and this was just another one that I truly felt was going to be used in the next part of my...