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Nail Care During Chemotherapy

Caution: Call your doctor if your cuticles become red and painful or show other changes.

Minor nail problems are common side effects of chemotherapy. These side effects occur because the treatment affects normal cells as well as cancer cells. To manage these side effects, try the tips below.

Woman wearing gloves while placing plant in clay pot.
Wear gloves when you garden or do housework.
Nail Changes

Nail problems tend to be minor. In most cases, you can take care of them yourself. Don’t be surprised if your nails become:

  • Darkened

  • Brittle

  • Cracked

  • Marked with vertical lines or bands

  • Detached from the skin

What You Can Do

If nail problems occur, be patient. Damaged nails can be repaired only with new growth, which is slow. Fingernails grow about 1/8 inch a month. Toenails grow about 1/24 inch a month. Until your nails grow back:

  • Keep them short and filed to show new growth. Be careful when cutting around cuticles.

  • Talk to your health care provider before using nail strengtheners or seeing a manicurist.

  • Reduce the risk of infection. Wear gloves when washing dishes, gardening, or performing other work around the house. Be careful when you cut your nails and cuticles.

  • To help prevent nails from peeling, drink plenty of fluids.

Online Medical Reviewer: de la Cruz, Marlene, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Eisenberg, Seth, RN, OCN
Last Review Date: 11/3/2011
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 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 professional's instructions.