March 15, 2023
Radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy, is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. It can lead to several side effects because high-energy radiation damages DNA in healthy cells as well. Changes in the skin are a common side effect experienced by those undergoing radiation therapy for cancer. A study* published by the National Cancer Institute found that skin reactions such as erythema (redness), desquamation (peeling), and moist desquamation (blistering) were reported in up to 95% of patients undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer.
The common side effects of radiotherapy are as follows:
Dry skin is more prone to damage and can cause irritation and itchiness during radiation therapy. Drinking enough water keeps the skin hydrated, preventing dryness and flakiness. In addition, hydration also helps maintain skin elasticity and prevent premature aging, both of which can be affected by radiation therapy.
Read more: How to choose the right sunscreen and use it
Radiotherapy can make the skin more sensitive to sun exposure. Therefore, it can lead to sunburn, darken the skin, and increase the risk of skin cancer.
To minimize the risk of damage, individuals undergoing radiation therapy for cancer should wear protective clothing, such as hats and long-sleeved shirts, and apply broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen. Remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours, or immediately after swimming or when sweating. In addition, experts also recommend limiting sun exposure during peak hours, typically from 10 AM to 4 PM.
Harsh soaps, hot water, and skin care products with fragrances or alcohol can further cause irritation. It can eventually increase skin sensitivity and lead to itching, burning, redness, and sensitivity.
To minimize the risk of skin irritation, use gentle, fragrance-free products and avoid scrubbing the skin.
One of the most common side effects of radiation therapy is dry skin which eventually leads to itching, tightness, etc. Keep the skin moisturized to prevent any kind of irritation, cracking, and infection.
Use a fragrance-free, gentle moisturizer suitable for sensitive skin. Apply moisturizer regularly, especially after bathing and when the skin feels dry. Use a thick, oil-based moisturizer at bedtime to help lock in moisture overnight.
Using the right skin care products and maintaining a proper skincare routine can help soothe the skin.
Start with a gentle cleanser, follow with a toner, and any skin treatment solutions, and finish by applying a moisturizer to seal in moisture. Read labels carefully and avoid using any product that contains alcohol or fragrance. During the day, don't forget to apply sunscreen after applying moisturizing cream.
Besides, it is wise to avoid hot water showers (warm water shower). Pat the skin dry gently instead of rubbing it and use a cold compress in case of any irritation or itching.
Exercise and other physical activities can improve circulation, which can improve skin health. These can also boost the immune system and help skin heal more quickly.
Start with low-impact physical activities, such as walking or swimming. If individuals experience any pain or discomfort, they should stop the activity. It is wise to consult a physical trainer to design a routine for you.
Any persistent changes, such as redness, itching, blistering, or a breakdown of the skin, should be evaluated by a dermatologist. A dermatologist can provide specialized care and a treatment plan for skin changes.
Radiation therapy can have many side effects on the skin, and not all can be prevented. Those who have been through or are currently undergoing treatment can take these steps to minimize the severity of the side effects. Any radical changes in the skin should be immediately reported to a doctor. For any further queries or concerns, contact Advanced Cancer Treatment Center in Florida and schedule an appointment with our providers.
* Click on the link for the data provided by National Cancer Institute on the effects of radiotherapy on skin