Is your skin more sensitive after treatment for breast cancer? Is it painful to touch or perhaps even the clothes just touching your skin irritates you? Surgery and radiation are two treatments used in breast cancer therapy that can interfere with sensory nerves present in the chest region that send signals back to the brain regarding touch, pressure, and painful stimuli. Many times, numbness is caused, but sometimes, the nerves responsible for sensation on the skin can become over sensitive leading to pain when touched or even when clothes are resting on the skin in this area.
You should always discuss your discomfort with your doctor as there may be other reasons for this discomfort or different methods or treatments available to you.
SOME TIPS TO HELP EASE SENSITIVITY REACTIONS:
Use warm water instead of hot in the shower to help soothe the area. Try not to let the shower water stream directly spray onto affected area
Wear looser clothing
Wearing a bra or prosthesis may not be comfortable at this time. You may not be able to wear them until your sensitivity settles down
Avoid sun exposure to the area
If the armpit is involved, try arrowroot powder to prevent skin rubbing and friction
The following routine may help desensitize the skin. It is a progressive routine that uses different types of materials starting with soft material and ending with rougher material as your skin becomes less sensitive.
SKIN DESENSITIZING ROUTINE RULES:
Do not try the desensitization routine described here during radiation therapy. Receive your doctor’s permission after radiation therapy has completed.
It is better to wait until your surgical scars have had a chance to heal. Check with your doctor or lymphedema therapist before starting this routine.
There is no set time as to how long it takes for your nerves to settle down. Be patient
Begin by placing the fabric onto your skin and see how your nerves react. This may be all that you can do for the first few times.
Try not to rub the skin and cause friction with the material. Instead, gently stroke across the skin using feather-like pressure.
When the fabric no longer causes discomfort, move on to the next coarser material.
SKIN DESENSITIZING ROUTINE
Start with a very soft furry material. Slowly, with no pressure applied, place the fabric on your chest and let it rest. If this drives you crazy, stop this for now and repeat a few times during the day. Once able, stroke the material over the skin of the chest. When this becomes effortless, without discomfort, move on to the next fabric. How long you do this will be determined by how sensitive you are. Try and do this for longer periods of time each time you do it. The goal is to get comfortable with this material before going on to the next. Do this twice a day until the sensation becomes comfortable before you move on to the next fabric choice. With each fabric you will apply the same method.
Next try some other soft material such as flannel (an old pair of pajamas maybe).
In the next phase you will look for something a bit rougher like cotton and continue with coarser materials after that such as denim. If you continue to have difficulties after trying a few fabric choices, consult with your doctor.
There are many bathing materials that can be used as well. Some are soft and some more coarse.
As time goes by you may find that your efforts will help desensitize the skin area. When you can stand touching your skin or wearing your clothes again, YOU HAVE SUCCEEDED!
DISCLAIMER: The information provided is for educational purposes only and not meant to diagnose any condition. It is advised that you consult with your doctor before beginning any desensitization practices.
Maldonado RJ, De Jesus O. Hyperesthesia. [Updated 2022 Oct 10]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK563125/
Skin sensitivity (2022). https://www.breastcancer.org/treatment-side-effects/skin-sensitivity