Understanding Radiation Therapy

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Skin problems

Your skin in the treatment area may look red, irritated, swollen, blistered, sunburned, or tanned. After a few weeks, your skin may become dry, flaky, itchy, or it may peel. It’s important to let your doctor or nurse know about any skin changes. They can suggest ways to ease the discomfort and maybe lessen further irritation.

Most skin reactions slowly go away after treatment ends. In some cases, though, the treated skin will stay darker than it was before. You need to be gentle with your skin. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Use only lukewarm water and mild soap. Just let water run over the treated area. Do not rub. Also be careful not to rub away the ink marks needed for your radiation therapy until it’s done.
  • Do not wear tight or scratchy clothing over the treatment area.
  • Try not to rub, scrub, or scratch any sensitive spots.
  • Do not put anything that is hot or cold, such as heating pads or ice packs, on your treated skin, unless your doctor tells you to do so.
  • Do not use a pre-shave or after-shave lotion or hair-removal products. Use an electric shaver if you must shave the area, but first check with your doctor or nurse.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse before using any powders, creams, perfumes, deodorants, body oils, ointments, lotions, or home remedies in the treatment area while you are being treated and for several weeks afterward. Many skin products can leave a coating on the skin that can cause irritation, and may even change the dose of radiation that enters the body.
  • Avoid exposing the area to the sun during treatment and for at least 1 year after your treatment ends. Do not use tanning beds or UV lamps.
  • If you expect to be in the sun for more than a few minutes, wear protective clothing (such as a hat with a broad brim and shirt with long sleeves) and use a sunscreen. Ask your doctor or nurse about using sunscreen lotions.

Last Medical Review: 01/24/2013
Last Revised: 01/24/2013