Mucocutaneous side effects of antineoplastic chemotherapy

Expert Opin Drug Saf. 2004 Nov;3(6):579-87. doi: 10.1517/14740338.3.6.579.


All structures of the skin may be affected by side effects of antineoplastic chemotherapy. The most commonly described effects concern skin adnexes, especially hair with alopecia. Nails are also frequently involved. Eccrine sweat or sebaceous gland involvement is more rarely reported. Mucous membranes, particularly in the mouth, are frequently altered by several mechanisms; direct cytotoxicity, infection, and a decrease in polymorphonuclear or platelet counts. Among cutaneous side effects, hyperpigmentation is very common and may have different clinical patterns; generalised, figurated, or localised. Acral erythema is another cutaneous side effect that is relatively specific to chemotherapy and is often dose-related. Some cutaneous side effects are related to an interaction between chemotherapy and radiation, particularly phototoxicity, recall phenomenon, and radiation enhancement. Miscellaneous, less frequent, side effects are described; sclerodermiform dermatitis, Raynaud's phenomenon, and hypersensitivity syndrome. In some cases, cutaneous side effects are relatively specific to one type of drug. Capillary leak syndrome is most often related to taxanes. Hydroxyurea is responsible for some peculiar cutaneous side effects (ulcerations, pseudo-dermatomyositis), perhaps due to long-term administration of the drug. Although mucocutaneous side effects of chemotherapy are frequent and sometimes severe, interruption of the culprit drug is rarely mandatory. However, adaptation of the dosage or prevention of some of these side effects remains necessary. Antineoplastic chemotherapies are widely used in many therapeutic protocols and may be responsible for numerous mucocutaneous side effects, either specific or more unusual. In rare cases, the severity of these side effects may require interruption of therapy. They may involve skin adnexes, mucous membranes or the skin itself. This review discusses cytotoxic antineoplastic drugs only, not cytokines, monoclonal antibodies or transduction factors used in the treatment of cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alopecia / chemically induced
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Drug Eruptions / etiology*
  • Hidradenitis / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Hydroxyurea / adverse effects
  • Mucous Membrane / drug effects*
  • Nail Diseases / chemically induced
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Pigmentation Disorders / chemically induced
  • Radiation Tolerance / drug effects
  • Stomatitis / chemically induced*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Hydroxyurea