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Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer: Managing Treatment Side Effects                   

Treatments for skin cancer often cause side effects. In most cases, these side effects go away after treatment. The symptoms can include skin problems, as well as emotional stress. Here are strategies to help.

Irritated skin

Burned and irritated skin can be a side effect of radiation therapy or topical chemotherapy. These steps can help relieve skin irritation caused by these treatments. Make sure to:

  • Wear loose, soft clothing over the treated area.

  • Don't scratch, rub, or scrub treated skin. Wash gently, and blot dry gently.

  • Only use paper tape if you apply a dressing to the area. Ask your nurse to help you place the dressing so that you can prevent more irritation.

  • Don't apply heat or cold to the area. Bathe only with lukewarm water.

  • If you must shave the area, only use an electric shaver. Don't use lotion before shaving. Don’t use hair-removal products.

  • Keep your nails well-trimmed and clean so that you don't damage sensitive skin when you touch it.

  • Protect your skin from the sun. Cover the treated area and wear sunscreen with at least SPF 30.

  • Ask your health care provider what kind of lotion is best to soothe your skin.


If you have skin surgery, temporary pain in the area of the surgery is a common side effect. You may feel pain in the first few days to a week after surgery. You can treat pain with pain medicine as your health care provider advises. Only use approved pain medication.


Any skin surgery leaves scars. The same is true for surgery to remove skin cancer. The size and color of the scar depend on the size of the cancer, its location, the type of surgery, and how well your skin heals. Your doctor will use methods to hide the scar as much as possible. Make sure to:

  • Ask about wound care. Your doctor can recommend ways to aid healing. Most often, though, your body's natural healing abilities are the best and simply take time.

  • Be patient. Healing continues over time after that. Early on, the scar may be red or bumpy. It takes about a full year for a scar to fade.

  • Follow up with your doctor. If you are worried about the scar's appearance in a few months or a year, talk with your doctor. He or she may advise options to make the scar less noticeable.

Anxiety or depression

Some people may feel worried, sad, or stressed when dealing with skin cancer. These feelings may continue during treatment. You may also worry about how you will look after the treatment. Make sure to:                                                                                                                  

  • Talk with your family or friends. Express your concerns.

  • Ask your doctor, nurse, or social worker for help. They can connect you with a support group. It can help to talk about concerns with people who have gone through the same experience.

  • Speak to a counselor. A professional therapist can help you cope with stress and other feelings.

  • Ask your doctor about medicines. If depression or anxiety make it hard to cope with daily life, your doctor may recommend medicines to help.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Cunningham, Louise, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 1/20/2015
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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