Radiation therapy - skin care
When you have radiation treatment for cancer, you may have some changes in your skin in the area being treated. Your skin may turn red, peel, or itch. You should treat your skin with care while receiving radiation therapy.
External radiation therapy uses high-powered x-rays or particles to kill cancer cells. The rays or particles are aimed directly at the tumor from outside of the body. Radiation therapy also damages or kills healthy cells. During treatment, skin cells do not have enough time to grow back between radiation sessions. This causes side effects.
Skin Side Effects
Side effects depend on the dose of radiation, how often you have the therapy, and the part of your body the radiation is focused on, such as:
Two weeks or so after radiation treatment starts, you may notice skin changes such as:
Most of these symptoms will go away after your treatments have stopped. However, your skin may remain darker, drier, and more sensitive to the sun. When your hair grows back, it may be different than before.
When you have radiation treatment, a health care provider tattoos small permanent marks on your skin. These indicate where to aim the radiation.
Take care of the skin in the treatment area.
Keep the treatment area out of direct sunlight while undergoing treatment.
The treated area will be more sensitive to the sun. You will also be more at risk for skin cancer in that area. Tell your provider if you have skin changes and any break or openings in your skin.
Doroshow JH. Approach to the patient with cancer. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 179.
National Cancer Institute website. Radiation therapy and you: support for people with cancer. www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/radiationttherapy.pdf. Updated October 2016. Accessed June 1, 2018.
Zeman EM, Schreiber EC, Tepper JE. Basics of radiation therapy. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 27.
Review Date: 5/18/2018
Reviewed By: David Herold, MD, Radiation Oncologist in West Palm Beach, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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