Skincare (Radiation Therapy)

Unfortunately, radiation injures or kills healthy cells as well as cancer cells in the treated area. Repeated radiation exposure causes an imbalance in tissue damage and repair so that exposed skin is damaged faster than it can repair itself. Treatment-related factors that increase the risk and severity of skin reactions include high daily and cumulative radiation doses, the type of beam used to deliver the radiation, a large treatment field, treatment to areas with skin folds (such as the head and neck, the groin or under the breast), and whether it was delivered with certain chemotherapies.

Radiation burns and skin irritation can interrupt treatment if not managed early and properly. Patients are advised to wear loose-fitting clothing, avoid fabrics that can cause itchiness and check with a healthcare provider before using lotions, perfumes or deodorants.

Other tips from the Mayo Clinic:

Here are a few things to remember while caring for your skin during radiation treatment:

  • Use mild soap and water to clean the area being treated (do not use deodorants that contain aluminum).
  • Your doctor may have prescribed steroid creams to prevent itching, redness and swelling — pay close attention to the instructions (usually best to apply 4 hours prior to treatment).
  • Be gentle with your skin by using a soft washcloth while showering or bathing — do not use loofah, scrubs brushes or sponges. Pat dry, instead of rubbing.
  • Wear loose-fitting, cotton clothing to reduce skin irritation.
  • Protect your skin from the sun — wear clothing and hat to cover up and stay in the shade.
  • Avoid extreme temperatures — take short, lukewarm or cool baths and showers.
  • Use moisturizer that is mild and without fragrances — Eucerin, Vanicream and Cetaphil are a few examples.
  • To help with side effects of throat irritation and dry mouth, ask about lozenges and gels that can help moisturize and replace saliva. SalivaSure, Numoisyn, Biotene, Aquoral are a few products you may find helpful.

It’s important to report any major symptoms to your doctor. These may include signs of infection, fever, severe pain, swelling, blistering and redness.

Studies have shown that preventing serious skin reactions can prevent long-term effects such as fibrosis. If you have extensive skin changes, you may want to consult with a physical therapist specializing in rehabilitation and/or a dermatologist experienced in treating cancer survivors