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Skin Reactions

Itching

Overview

Pruritus is an uncomfortable skin sensation, commonly called itching. It may be caused by any number of irritants to the skin, or it may be a result of cancer treatments or cancer itself. Treatments aim to reduce inflammation, pain, or reverse an allergic reaction. Taking care of your skin will also help manage itching.

What is pruritus?

Pruritus is an uncomfortable skin sensation that results in itching or rubbing. Pruritus is commonly referred to as simply, “itching.” It may come on suddenly and be short-lived (acute), or it may be long-lasting (chronic).

What causes itching?

Itching can be caused by cancer treatment or the cancer itself. Cancers that involve the skin or have spread to the skin, such as malignant melanoma, leukemia and lymphoma, commonly cause itching. Itching may also be caused by the body’s inability to clear certain toxins due to kidney or liver problems. You should notify your doctor if you have any unusual itching.

Itching as a result of cancer treatment may be acute or chronic. Acute itching that occurs when certain chemotherapy drugs are administered may be a sign that you are having an allergic reaction to that drug. Cancer treatments that are associated with chronic, or long-term itching, include:

What are the symptoms to watch for?

Itching may be an early symptom that you are having an allergic reaction. Notify emergency medical services (call 911) immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:

How is itching treated?

If itching is caused by an allergic reaction to a substance such as a drug, that medication should be discontinued. Treatments often involve medications that reduce inflammation or reverse symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Corticosteroid cream: Steroids work by reducing inflammation. Your doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid cream that you rub on the irritated skin.

Antihistamine: Antihistamines reduce symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as rash, hives and shortness of breath. Your doctor may recommend antihistamines that can be purchased over-the-counter. An example is diphenhydramine (Benadryl®).

Analgesics: Itching may be a mild stimulation of your pain receptors. Over-the-counter medications can relieve pain. Examples are acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and aspirin.

What else can I do?

To control or reduce the symptoms of chronic itching, take care of your skin. Try the following tips:

Hydration:

Moisturizers:

Things to avoid:

Things to try for relief:

Clothes:

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