Rash as a Chemo Side Effect

Chemotherapy drug treatment can cause a patient to experience rashes on the back, chest, arms, neck or face that may look like a rosacea or acne type condition. A patient usually experiences rash side effects that are mild to moderate. Rash side effects do come with an infection risk factor. In some cases if the rash is serious, the treatment drugs may be reduced, delayed or terminated.

Drugs That Cause Rash

Some of the medications that increase the likelihood of a rash are Tarceva (erlotinib) and Erbitux (cetuximab). They may cause an acne-like condition that arises in the second week of the cancer treatment, but may start to diminish by the fourth week of treatment. The rash goes away once the treatment has been completed.

These medications are directed toward the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and inflammation occurs that often causes an acne-like skin reaction.

Drug Treatments to Reduce Rash Side Effects

There are no real firm standards on what can be used to treat rashes for chemotherapy patients; however, following are some medications used to help reduce rash side effects during chemotherapy drug treatment:

– antihistamines such as Benadryl and Atarax to lessen itching
– topical corticosteroids
– antibiotics (oral or topical)
– Elidel being researched to control EGFR-related rash side effect

Why do the side effects occur in specific parts of the body?

Healthy cells in certain parts of the body are especially sensitive to chemotherapy drugs. The parts of the body that seem to be prone to side effects are the parts that have rapidly dividing cells. Chemotherapy drugs attack these cells and can result in various side effects based on the drug type, dose and route in which the patient receives the drugs.

The following cells are prone to side effects:

  • the bone marrow cells (which makes blood cells)
  • hair follicles cells
  • cells that line the mouth and throat
  • cells that line digestive system

Chemotherapy treatments are normally given in a group of sessions. The sessions are followed by a period of rest. The chemotherapy sessions kill the cancer cells and the rest periods allow the healthy cells to recover.