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Any advice on keeping my nails?

Posts: 557
Joined: Oct 2018

I met with a chemo nurse today, and she recommended that I put tea tree oil on my cuticles twice a day throughout treatment.  She implied that this could save me from losing nails.

I'm already planning on icing my hands and feet for the chemo, so I'm hoping that with less penetrance of the carboplatin/taxol to the nailbeds, I'd be less likely to lose my nails.  Logically, it seems to me that beyond that, there's nothing that I could do to stop damage to the nail beds, and since that's where the nail grows, that's where it would detach.  

I have been a nail/cuticle biter, tearer, picker since childhood.  But I'm wearing those snug runner's gloves with the touch screen pad on index and thumb to break myself of it, because I knew I would get a terrible infection otherwise.  I have extremely dry hands, my skin cracks every winter, and the cracks are leading edges for compulsive picking.  I'm happy to say that the gloves have helped immensely - if I have to wear them 24/7, I will!

Does anyone have advice on what else I can/should do to avoid losing my nails?  I don't mind if they're short, I never had long nails.  But they protect our fingertips and toes, and I cannot imagine losing them!

derMaus's picture
Posts: 561
Joined: Nov 2016

I've never heard of using tea tree oil on cuticles although I've used it for other things. I don't see how it would have any impact on chemo that's circulating through the blood stream. That said, I also have crappy nails but chemo made very little difference to them. They were *slightly* weaker than usual, but nothing dramatic. I doubt  yours will get that bad, expecially if you ice at least some of the time.

Posts: 293
Joined: Dec 2017

I never lost my nails. However, I broke a toenail bed long before this happened, and that toenail still looks a litlte worse than usual now. The chemo did SOMETHING to it ... I am not sure what. 

Posts: 1153
Joined: Jun 2016

I think tea tree oil is antiseptic and maybe that's why it was recommended because of your habit. I was switched from Taxol to Taxotere for my second infusion and that's the one that everyone was warning me about causing problems with nails. I've never worn nail polish... that was one suggestion. Taxotere can make your nails turn black and you can wear black nail polish to hide it if it does. Nails detaching was another concern. What I did was use a nail conditioner every day, kept my hands out of detergents, and limited hand exposure to sunlight as apparently that can interact with Taxotere. My nails never were stronger or longer...probably from not putting them in detergents! I also wore hypothermia mittens during infusions.

EZLiving66's picture
Posts: 1479
Joined: Oct 2015

I am one of the few women who lost their finger and toenails. I had Taxotere which is supposed to cause less neuropathy. In my case, I experienced severe neuropathy right after my first chemo. I only made it through three chemos. NOW, three year's later my feet and legs hurt and my fingernails have never come back totally. It sucks but I'm still alive and a lot of wonderful ladies who had the same thing as me but are no longer with us. 



Posts: 557
Joined: Oct 2018

You are so right, Eldri!  Three years out from UPSC is a victory!  As for my "habit", I think it's done.  The gloves really help - I wear them as much as possible.  But the chemo nurse didn't know about my biting and picking when she suggested the tea tree oil.  I do know that nothing that one applies topically could keep nail beds from being damaged by chemo, and once the nail bed dies, the nail will detach.  Same rationale as thinking that some sort of moisturizer would keep hair from falling out!

I took a tour of the infusion facility today.  I was so frightened even walking in there!  I felt the way a dog does when he gets taken to the vet!  And I'm in the medical field!  I did months of training in hematology/oncology about 25 years ago!  I never take any kind of a sedative, but I realized that I'd better take some Ativan before I leave the house on Friday morning, or I'll walk in there crying and shaking.  Thank goodness my extremely supportive husband will go with me.  They're going to try to give me a private room this first time - I don't want to be embarrassed falling apart in front of other patients.  And I'm really very stoic, have had several painful procedures that people usually get put out for, with only local or nothing.  I'm just so scared of chemo.

There was someone there who was wearing a penguin cold cap (but nothing on hands and feet).  The chemo nurse told me she was having her first round of chemo, and when I mentioned that I had decided against the scalp cooling partly because of the pain, she said that the woman had complained that it gave her a bad headache throughout the infusion.  I think that my choice of forgoing scalp cooling is the right one for me.

Armywife's picture
Posts: 452
Joined: Feb 2018

I had the same sort of apprehension before my first chemo, and my nurse was so kind she put me at ease instantly.  I promise it gets easier.  I had Carbo/Taxol the first infusion, had a reaction to it so just Carbo second infusion, and then Carbo/Taxotere for the last four.  I iced my hands and feet and never had so much as a nail break.  I don't know if it was the icing or not, but my nails remained the same all through treatment as they had before and since.  Hang in there!

Posts: 557
Joined: Oct 2018

The anecdotal reports I have heard all indicate that icing does help, along with the few small studies that have been done.  I don't understand why this isn't being studied in a large trial, or just adopted as standard.  It's basically free, and I don't think that there has ever been a report of a metastasis to the hands or feet.  Not looking forward to it, but it helps to hear that it gets easier.  Fortunately, I'm keeping busy with friends right before starting treatment, to keep my mind off of it.

LadyMox's picture
Posts: 56
Joined: Sep 2018

I didn't realize I could lose my nails, I'll have to pay attention to see if they start looking odd. I'm on chemo 3 (taxol/carbo) and so far so good.

cmb's picture
Posts: 728
Joined: Jan 2018

I had four different kinds of chemo drugs (but not Taxotere) and never had any nail loss. Now my nails are normally weak and tend to split at the drop of a hat, but they were not any worse during chemo. They were one body part that functioned as usual during that period.

I did not ice my hands or feet, although I wish that I had kept my feet cool. I do have mild neuropathy in the balls of my feet from chemo.

LisaPizza's picture
Posts: 343
Joined: Feb 2018

I'm another who had no nail loss, and no icing. No neuropathy either, except very brief and mild and transient. Actually I think my nails got more ridged, but no nail loss at all 

Posts: 557
Joined: Oct 2018

Had first chemo today, chilled my hands and feet throughout.  Carbo/Taxol.  I wore thin socks and ziploc bags with rubber bands at the ankle on my feet, and put them into plastic boxes the size of shoeboxes.  For my hands, I put on nitrile gloves that went only to the wrist, and used quart sized take out soup containers.  I tried lots of ice with some water first, but I just couldn't stand it, it was so painfully cold.  So I changed over to lost of water with some ice in it, and we kept on adding ice throughout the 5 hours of pre, during, and post treatment!  I fell asleep for an hour sitting up during the infusion, and my wonderful husband kept on adding ice to the containers.  He said he added ice about 5 or 6 times during the hour I was asleep, but I only was aware of it twice.

For next time, I have decided I won't wear the nitrile gloves.  Water got in anyway, and then it had the wetsuit effect inside the nitrile gloves, where I had a warmed thin layer of water next to my skin.  So, since they got waterlogged anyway, I'll just put my hands directly into the ice water next time.  For the feet, the thin socks and plastic bag worked well, but next time I will forgo the sockes.  I think they held my toes tightly together, thus keeping them warmer.  If I use just the loose ziploc, I can wiggle them more easily to expose them to cold.

I hope the chilling helps to prevent nail loss and neuropathy.  Doing it this way is cheap and easy.  We just bought a 16 lb bag of ice to bring with us in a cooler.

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