Managing Skin Side Effects

Skin side effects from radiation therapy are the most discomforting and irritating. The exposed skin looks like it has been sun burnt and also the skin become sore and dry to touch with possible itching and peeling. The radiation effects the skin discoloration and change in texture in patches and over time.

There are few areas of the body which are more susceptible to these changes and easily alter as compared to other skin areas as an effect to radiation exposure.

  • Area of the upper inner corner of the breast due to the exposure tangent of the radiation beam
  • Armpit skin due to its constant rubbing against the exposed skin
  • The skin along the fold under the breast due to exposure tangent of the radiation beam and clothing factor.

The skin might react differently depending upon the complexion, susceptibility to sunburn, large breasts, high dose treatment and to patients with recent chemotherapy. In severe cases towards the end of the course there might be extensive peeling of the skin leading to open sores which may be quite painful like a blister. These can be easily managed with the doctors advise but they require immediate attention.

Once the treatment has ended some of these effects may continue to affect the skin alteration but then after a week – 10 days, the skin will certainly start getting better. After the initial week of completion of radiation therapy course the redness and the sensitivity should decrease. Similar to a regular healing of any sunburn peeling or blisters these will also heal over time and the discoloration will also slowly go away and might take from 3 to 6 months. A permanent side effect of radiation may be telangiectasis in certain patients which is not a symptom of cancer. Though these can be helped with laser therapies. Other than this high oxygen therapy and other remedies by dermatologist for skin pigmentation can also help.

Few Skin Care Tips:

  • Preferably patient should wear comfortable and loose fitting clothes.
  • Warm water bath should be taken, and harsh & strong soaps should be avoided.
  • Prevent water from falling directly on the breast.
  • Try and avoid skin to skin contact to prevent redness and skin irritation
  • Prevent moisture (dust with cornstarch at regular intervals) to reduce friction between the skinfolds
  • With the recommendation of the doctor use anti fungal cream to prevent yeast infections.
  • In the initial days of starting with the treatment moisturize the skin before the side effects are caused by the radiation.
  • For severe cases of peeling and itching a stronger steroid cream should be taken as per the recommendation of the doctor.
  • There should a complete prevention of direct exposure to sunlight, swimming should be avoided as chlorine makes the skin reactions worse. Or alternatively cover the area exposed to radiation with petroleum jelly.
  • Post radiation treatment, exposure to sun does no harm but a strong sunblock is highly mandated.

Managing Other Side Effects of Radiation

Radiation therapy unlike the general presumption is less difficult to go through and the side effects are quite manageable. Radiation does affect the healthy cells of the body and there is a gradual initiation of the side effects and visible symptoms. All the patients who undergo radiation therapy do not necessarily experience the side effects of radiation. Some of the common side effects other than skin damage of radiation therapy are armpit discomfort, chest pain, fatigue, heart problems, lowered white blood cell count and lung problems.

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