Skin Sensitivity

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During treatment for breast cancer, you may notice that your skin is more or less sensitive to touch than before, especially in the breast area. The increase or decrease in sensitivity is because certain treatments affect the nerve endings in your skin and how they relay messages to the brain. An increase in sensitivity is called hypersensitivity and a decrease in sensitivity is called hyposensitivity or numbness.

The following breast cancer treatments can affect your skin's sensitivity:

Learn more about managing radiation-related skin side effects in the Radiation Therapy section.

Managing skin sensitivity

If your skin is painful, talk to your doctor. You may be able to take a pain medicine.

Other tips to ease any skin sensitivity you may have:

  • Use warm water when showering rather than hot, to soothe the area.
  • Turn your back to the shower so the water does not hit your breast directly.
  • Be conscious of areas where sensitive skin might rub together and try to avoid rubbing, if possible. These areas may include armpits, the area under your breast, or along your cleavage.
  • Use cornstarch powder or baby powder to reduce friction in the armpit and other areas that rub.
  • Try to avoid contact with the sensitive area until you feel comfortable with gentle touching.
  • Stay out of the sun -- it can make sensitive skin feel worse. If you do go outside, be sure to cover up and use sunblock.
  • Don’t wear a bra or prosthesis if the skin around your breast area is sensitive.
  • Focus on less-sensitive areas during sexual activity. Ask your partner to massage your hands, feet, legs, or arms.
  • Practice gentle touch on the sensitive areas, with yourself or your partner.
  • See tips on managing numbness, if you’re dealing with decreased sensitivity.

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