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Nail Care During Chemotherapy

How to Keep Nails Healthy During Treatment


Updated November 05, 2007

Many women are surprised to learn that chemotherapy may have an effect on their nails during treatment. Both fingernails and toenails can become brittle, dry, discolored, develop lines or ridges, and may even fall off.

Nail damage is a common side of chemotherapy drugs belonging to the taxane group. For women being treated with chemotherapy for cervical cancer, this would mean drugs like docetaxel and paclitaxel. Taxanes work by inhibiting the growth of tumors.

How to Reduce Nail Damage

There are many things a woman can do to help reduce nail damage and keep nails healthy during treatment:

  • Wear rubber gloves. When doing indoor chores like dish washing or cleaning with household cleansers, always use rubber gloves. During chemotherapy, the cuticles often become dry; household cleansers can aggravate the condition and may cause burning to sensitive cuticles. Wearing rubber gloves will protect hands from these potentially aggravating cleansers. Rubber gloves are also important when doing outdoor chores like gardening and yard work.

  • Avoid cosmetic nail treatments. When nails don't look their best, it is tempting to go to a manicurist for acrylic nails or nail wraps. The space behind the acrylic nails and wraps are often spaces that harbor and trap bacteria, leading to an infection. It is best to avoid the temptation and wait until chemotherapy treatment is over before having cosmetic nail treatments.

    If nails are not cracking or broken, nail polish can be worn. Many women use nail polish to mask nail discolorations, lines, and ridges. Some women find that nail polish may even strengthen the nail. helping to reduce nail breakage. Remember to use a non-acetone polish remover, as acetone is sometimes harsh on fragile nails.

  • Care for your cuticles. Cuticles can become dry and ragged during chemotherapy. Use a moisturizing cuticle cream regularly to prevent dryness. It also recommended to use a cuticle remover to remove dry cuticles, as opposed to pulling, cutting, or tearing them off. Cuticles that are painful or inflamed should be reported to a doctor.

  • Keep nails cool during chemotherapy sessions. Studies show that keeping the nails cool during chemotherapy sessions can help to reduce damage. By keeping the nail areas colder than that rest of the body, the chemotherapy drugs do not reach the nails as easily and will not cause as much cell damage. This type of treatment is called cryotherapy.

    In clinical trials for nail damage, cryotherapy was done using a special frozen glove. Cryotherapy to prevent nail damage during chemotherapy has not yet been approved by the FDA, so it is common to see women dipping their fingers in ice water or even keeping frozen vegetable bags on their hands during treatment.


Florian , Scotté, Jean-Marc Tourani, Eugeniu Banu, Michel Peyromaure, Eric Levy, Sandrine Marsan, Emmanuelle Magherini, Elisabeth Fabre-Guillevin, Jean-Marie Andrieu, Stéphane Oudard. "Multicenter Study of a Frozen Glove to Prevent Docetaxel-Induced Onycholysis and Cutaneous Toxicity of the Hand." Journal of Clinical Oncology 2301 July 2005 4424-9. Accessed 19 March 2007.

Minisini, A. M. , A. Tosti, A. F. Sobrero, M. Mansutti, B. M. Piraccini, C. Sacco and F. Puglisi. "Taxane-induced nail changes: incidence, clinical presentation and outcome." Annals of Oncology Vol 14, No 23 July 2003 3333-337. Accessed 19 March 2007.

"Will My Skin and Nails Be Affected?." 06 June 2006. American Cancer Society. Accessed 19 Mar 2007.

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