Killing cancer is challenging. The rapid growth and spread of tumors necessitates the use of every tool available in modern medicine, and sometimes those tools can cause collateral damage. We are all familiar with the hair loss that can come with chemotherapy, the burns that sometimes follow radiation therapy treatments and the many aftereffects of invasive surgery, but there are other side effects that are less well known but equally debilitating and painful.
One of the lesser known peripheral damages that can be done by chemotherapy is known as hand-foot syndrome, or palmar-plantar erythrodysesthesia. This very long name describes a painful condition that is caused by some chemotherapy drugs. Because the chemicals in these drugs specifically target fast growing cancer cells, they also can damage other fast-growing cells in the body, including skin cells and the small blood vessels found in the palms of the hands and on the feet.
Though the drugs may be doing wonderful work by damaging cancer cells, the damage that they do to the tissues of the feet can be extremely painful. Symptoms include redness and pain similar to a sunburn, swelling, tenderness, and thick calluses and blisters. The skin can crack, flake or peel and cancer patients may experience difficulty walking or using the hands.
These symptoms are usually at their worst at the beginning of treatment, but can take as long as two or three months to appear. Treatment is usually provided through topical anti-inflammatory creams, and if your symptoms are very bad then your doctor may reduce your chemotherapy dose.
You can also take certain measures to minimize your discomfort, including keeping away from very hot water, taking cool showers and baths, using ice packs or cool compresses, and avoiding all sources of heat or friction. Products that contain harsh chemicals should be avoided, and the use of loose-fitting shoes is recommended.
Many cancer patients have found relief by wearing comfort socks. These are soft, comfortable socks that either provide some kind of therapy or are simply soothing by virtue of their texture. Here is a list of several popular choices.
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