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The changes that can happen to finger nails and toe nails as a result of chemotherapy and what to do about your nails during chemotherapy are discussed in the the other sections of this document.

Nails grow slowly. On average, it takes about 6 months for a fingernail to regrow and 12 months to regrow a toe nail. The new nails usually appear to be normal.

Alert your doctor if you have redness, pain, secretions under the nail, or changes around your cuticles or if any of nail changes become worrisome. Your doctor may have a prescription medication to recommend. 

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Nail Changes During Treatment

As a result of chemotherapy, your nails may:

  • Become:
    • Brittle
    • Cracked 
    • Darkened
    • Sensitive
  • Develop vertical lines, bands or grooves. 
  • Separate from the skin below.

There may also be secretions from under the nail which may foul-smelling and painful. 

As a result of these changes, you may have difficulty doing your normal activities such as buttoning a shirt or picking up small objects. 


How To Take Care Of Your Nails During Chemotherapy

To take care of your nails during treatment consider the following:

  • Clip nails short .
  • Moisturize your hands and nails. For instance, use a cream that has a urea content of 10% or higher, such as Aquaphor, Bag Balm, Eucerin, or Udderly Smooth
  • Soak your nails in warm olive oil for ten minutes, once a week.
  • Cuticles should be pushed back, never clipped. This helps avoid cuts and lessens the chance of infection. (For other tips about avoiding infection, click here).
  • Avoid acrylic or other artificial nail wraps. They can promote infection by trapping bacteria between your own nails and the wrap.
  • It is preferable not to use a colored nail polish during chemotherapy. Nail polish can hide nail discoloration by using opaque or light colored nail polish. 
  • To avoid further drying and cracking, use only use non-acetate nail polish and polish remover.
  • Protect your nails by wearing gloves when doing household chores such as washing dishes or using harsh cleansers, and when gardening.
  • Use caution when considering products that can strengthen your nails. These products can be irritating to some people.  This may not be the best time to experiment. Speak with your doctor before using any new product.
  • Do not wear tight-fitting coverings such as gloves for your fingers or sock, hose or shoes for your feet.
  • Ask your doctor if you can place cold packs on your hands and feet while you are being infused with chemotherapy. If he or she approves, start using the cold packs 15 minutes before the start of treatment, and continue to use them until 15 minutes after the end of the infusion. 

It has been reported that the following can help counteract the effect of chemotherapy on your nails:

  • Soak your nails in warm olive oil for ten minutes, once a week.
  • Use hand creams regularly.

Be sure to let your doctor know if you have redness, pain, or changes around your cuticles or any other skin problems that you are worried about.