In order to be able to provide the best possible treatment to clients suffering from cancer, there are further training courses in oncological cosmetics. A better understanding of the disease and therapies helps to deal confidently and at the same time empathetically with affected patients.
According to estimates by the Robert Koch Institute, around 510,000 people in Germany are newly diagnosed with cancer every year. This diagnosis hits many people unprepared, like a bolt from the blue.
With increasing life expectancy and further development of diagnostic and therapeutic measures, it is therefore increasingly likely that we will encounter cancer patients not only in our private but also in our professional environment. The development of cancer is very complex. This is also demonstrated by the many research groups worldwide that are working on the causes and therapies of the most diverse types of cancer.
Cells out of control
Cancer can develop from any type of cell, thus from every single tissue of the human body. It is based on a change in the cell's genetic material, which is located in the cell nucleus and is responsible for a smooth cell function. If there is damage to the genetic material or errors in the reading of the genetic information, the cell changes: it can suddenly divide uncontrollably and grow aggressively, bypass cell death and even leave its place in the tissue association to go on "rampage".
There are various factors that favour changes in the genetic material. One is a genetic predisposition, but the other is the natural ageing process of the cells, which makes them more susceptible to damage.
Waste products also occur in the course of normal cell metabolism and can damage the genetic material.
What promotes the disease?
Lifestyle, e.g. an unhealthy or one-sided diet, as well as lack of exercise and being overweight also play a role. One of the biggest external factors certainly is smoking, which is not only associated with lung cancer, but also with many other types of cancer (e.g. stomach, uterus or blood cancer). Other triggering factors can be alcohol, viruses (e.g. papilloma viruses) or cancer-promoting chemicals. But UV radiation also has a major influence, for example in the development of skin cancer. However, not every risk factor necessarily results in cancer. Often it is a combination of individual circumstances that promote cancer and that add up and lead to the development of the disease.
Proven and innovative approaches
The three major fields of treatment for cancer are surgical removal of the malignant tumor, chemotherapy and radiation. The newer approaches also include targeted therapies and immunotherapy.
Which therapy is suitable depends on many different factors, including the type of cancer, the stage or course of the disease, as well as patient-specific factors such as general state of health, age, concomitant diseases, regular medication, treatment wishes, etc. Supportive psycho-oncological care can also help. Usually, different therapies are combined depending on the treatment goal in order to rid the body of all cancer cells in the long term.
One of the most important types of treatment is surgery, the aim of which is to remove all abnormal cells as completely as possible. After surgery, scar care should be started immediately, as long as no further radiation is planned. As a rule of thumb: once the skin has stabilised and any stitches have been removed, you can cautiously begin. On the one hand, scar creams or gels are used, which often contain ingredients such as onion extract, allantoin or heparin. They have a wound-healing, moisturising and cell-regenerating effect and should be massaged into the scar several times a day in circular movements.
Under the protective film
On the other hand, there are silicone-containing scar gels that are applied thinly to the scar once or twice a day without massage. Due to their sealing (occlusive) protective film, they keep the scar soft and elastic. However, they should not be used on scars near the joints, as the sealing protective film will quickly break down. Alternatives are scar patches containing silicone, which remain on the skin permanently - except when showering. Those who decide to use scar care should do so regularly for at least three months in order to achieve a positive effect on scar maturation.
A beautiful make-up is likewise soulfood. Here too, however, only low-irritant products suitable for sensitive skin should be used and applied.
Radiation and its consequences
In simple terms, the "radiation" in radiation therapy ensures that cell division is slowed down and thus the growth of the malignant tumor is decelerated or stopped completely. In addition, the "radiation" damages the genetic code of the cells and as a result they die. In most cases, the tumor is irradiated from outside the body - which means that the skin is always irradiated as well (from different angles).
Here, an acute inflammation of the skin can appear, which is called acute radiation dermatitis and is treated by a doctor. The inflammation is divided into different stages and can range from an initial reddening and overheating (similar to sunburn), to swelling, oozing and scaling of the skin, to tissue destruction.
Gentle support for the skin
Whether or not water is allowed on the irradiated skin depends in turn on how large the irradiation part is, how intensively it is irradiated, whether possible surgical wounds have already been closed and how sensitive the skin reacts. Therefore, the response should always be discussed with the treating radiotherapist. However, careful and brief contact with water is usually possible. Cosmetic treatment can certainly be carried out during radiotherapy.
Having said that, there are a few things to bear in mind:
The directly irradiated area should be generously left out during treatment, as the skin is particularly "stressed" here.
Only care products that are specially adapted to sensitive skin should be used, i.e. they should be mildly formulated and without strong fragrances or preservatives.
How chemotherapy works
Chemotherapy involves the use of certain drugs (cytostatics) that interfere with the division process of rapidly dividing cells, particularly cancer cells.
Hair cells also divide quickly, which explains the hair loss that typically accompanies chemotherapy. Other side effects include altered blood counts, fatigue, nausea or diarrhoea. In addition, changes in the colour and structure of the nails can occur, and hand-foot syndrome is also a common side effect, with painful redness and swelling on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. One advantage of chemotherapy is that it affects the entire body, including possible metastases. The therapy is usually carried out in several treatment intervals.
Malignant tumour cell
We asked the question: What exactly is a tumor?
The term tumor derives from Latin and means swelling, proliferation, lump. It describes the enlargement of a tissue. A distinction is made between benign and malignant tumors.
Benign tumors (e.g. cysts) usually grow rather slowly and displace the surrounding tissue, but always tolerate the borders of the neighbouring tissue.
In malignant tumors, an uncontrolled cell division and a disorderly growth occurs. The surrounding tissue is displaced and destroyed.
In addition, malignant tumors settle in other tissues or organs and form metastases.
If there is a malignant tumor, it is called cancer. The term can actually be traced back to the animal of the same name and was coined by Hippocrates. Since it was strictly forbidden at that time to examine deceased persons more closely, many diseases were described according to their appearance. This was also the case with a malignant tumour on a woman's breast, which Hippocrates compared in shape, consistency and growth pattern to the appearance of a cancer.
Targeting the villains
Unlike this, targeted cancer therapies do not have such a broad effect on the whole body, but rather notably on very specific "attack points" of the cancer cells. They very often cause skin side effects, such as a rash with red spots, nodules or acne-like skin changes, but without blackheads. Another very common side effect is painful nail bed inflammation (paronychia) on hands and feet. In addition, skin dryness, itching, thinning of the epidermis and skin cracks may occur.
How you can help
The skin is not referred to as the mirror of the soul for nothing.
Thus, cosmetic experts can help to restore the emotional, but also often attacked skin balance. Stabilising, regenerating, preventing are the most important treatment goals when dealing with cancer patients during treatment. Anamnesis and skin analysis are particularly important! Many clients also know what is good for them in the respective situation or what the doctor perhaps recommended during treatment.
Cosmetic Dos and Don'ts
- Getting the client properly "bedded down" is the first step, as during and even for some time after the end of cancer treatment the circulation may be weakened.
- During treatment, only low-irritant skin care products with effective ingredients should be used to restore the skin balance.
For example, look for products with alpha-bisabolol, balloon vine, echium oil, evening primrose oil or panthenol, as these ingredients have a particularly calming, soothing and anti-inflammatory effect. As a rule of thumb, what is suitable is what can also be used for very sensitive skin. The products should not contain parabens, mineral oils, fragrances or dyes.
- Only use mild lotions or milk for cleansing, no aggressive tensides! In general, it is recommended to only use lukewarm water during the treatment. Use the compresses to dry the skin only by dabbing, do not rub or scrape.
- Be rather cautious with peelings; it is also better to use only mild preparations in small doses.
- The steaming device should not be used!
- Essential fragrances or oils should also be avoided, as they can irritate the affected skin (increased allergy potential) and patients undergoing chemotherapy react very sensitively to fragrances.
- Patients can experience nerve damage from certain cancer drugs, which can lead to an unpleasant skin sensation or even tingling.
Therefore, always inquire about the customers' sensation!
- And last but not least: Please never forget sun protection, as many medications make the skin more sensitive to light!
Pampering hint-The little wellness plus
The mucous membranes can often become very dry during cancer therapy. Therefore, apply a rich lip care to the client for an extra portion of feel-good.
Do we massage or not?
Often the skin care professional also asks the question whether and at what point in the treatment of cancer patients he/she is allowed to perform a massage. In this regard, there are studies that prove that massage therapy and stimulation have a positive effect on the mood and fatigue of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, in particular e.g. a shiatsu massage, which helps the body to eliminate "waste products" more quickly. Manual lymphatic drainage can be similarly useful to relieve existing lymphatic congestion. Breast cancer patients in particular can benefit from this gentle method.
However, it should be noted that in the case of malignant tumours in the head and neck area, it cannot be ruled out that the risk of a possible carry-over of diseased cells exists as a result of the massage.
This question should be discussed well with the client beforehand, e.g. whether there is any information from the treating doctor on the subject of massage. The results should then be documented in the skin diagnosis card.
Dr. med. Christine Schrammek
The managing director of Dr. med. Christine Schrammek
Kosmetik GmbH & Co. KG is a dermatologist and allergologist. As an anti-aging expert, she develops treatment methods such as the GREEN PEEL® herbal peeling treatment and dermatological care products.
is part of the Dr. med. Schrammek owner family and management of Dr. med. Christine Schrammek Kosmetik GmbH & Co. KG. As an expert of sensitive skin, the Medical Specialist for Dermatology and Venerology is a valued speaker at international lectures and seminars.