All Radiation therapy for cancer treatment, including both primary and adjuvant, is non-specific and kills not only cancer cells that it is targeting, but also healthy cells that happen to be in the target area. A common side effect on healthy cells is radiation burn.
Radiation burn is characterized with skin, within the target area, that peels. This skin damage can occur within 1 to 2 weeks of treatment and usually resolves itself over time once the treatment period is complete.
Symptoms of radiation burn (aka dermatitis) can also include hair loss, skin peeling, decreased sweating, edema, skin ulceration, and bleeding. The extent of any of these symptoms depends on the total radiation dose, the size of the area treated, cellular fractionation, and the type of radiation used by the radiologist. When the radiation burn is severe the radiation treatment should be discontinued until the skin heals.
There are Different Ways to Treat Radiation Burn
- Keep your skin moisturized and lubricated to prevent itching and cracking.
- Be sure to use fragrance-free products.
- Do not wash with hot water, use only luke warm water.
- Avoid hot baths, as this will dry your skin, instead take a quick luke warm shower.
- Pat yourself dry with a towel instead of rubbing and irritating your skin.
- Be careful not to rub off the markings your radiation therapist made on your skin.
- Never use heating pads, ice packs or bandages on the area receiving the radiation.
- Do not use any skin care products or oils because they might reduce the efficacy of the radiation treatment.
- Use non-adhesive dressings, adhesive bandage removal could cause further damage to your skin.
- Do not wear tight clothing around the treated area.
- Clothes and bed sheets should be made of soft cotton, no synthetic materials that might cause additional irritation to your skin.
- Use an electric razor if your doctor or nurse says you can shave.
- Avoid exposing the treated area to the sun while you are being treated. Wear sun-protective clothing, especially over the treated area.
- Check with your doctor to see how long you should continue to take sun precautions.