Skin Care

Radiotherapy Patient information

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Review these instructions with your health care team prior to using them

Skin Care During Treatments:

When radiation treatments are given to internal organs (or skin), a skin reaction might result in the treated area only. A point to remember is that the radiation treatment affects only the area or areas being treated. The site being treated and the amount of radiation given will determine the kind of skin changes, if any, you experience. Most patients do not experience significant skin reactions. Skin changes that do occur may vary from no changes to a dry, pink color, to a bronzed appearance. Significantly symptomatic skin changes usually do not occur, but their occurrence is not rare. Skin reactions do not mean that your treatments are going poorly or that the cancer is spreading. Skin reactions may become more severe if you are receiving chemotherapy and radiation therapy at the same time.

Things you may do to help include:

1. If your skin is marked with a color dye, do not wash the marks off or "refresh" the marks by yourself. They are necessary for accurate daily alignment of the treatment beam.

2. At the beginning of your treatments, the technologist may "tattoo" the treatment area. Tattoos are small permanent dots that define the treatment area and help allow accurate daily set-ups. If you have objections or concerns regarding the placement of tattoos, please discuss this with the radiation therapy treatment team prior to their placement.

3. Keep your skin dry and exposed to the air whenever possible. Use of cornstarch, gently patted on with a powder puff, will keep the skin dry.

4.    Wear loose fitting soft clothing that does not rub or irritate the area of treatment. Women with breast cancer should avoid bras that rub below the breast.

5.    Unless necessary, do not use adhesive tape, including band aids and paper tape, on treated area.

6.    Avoid extreme hot and cold temperatures to treated areas. This includes heating pads, hot water bottles, ice bags, heat producing ointments and lotions. Avoid hot tubs with extremely hot water.

7.    You may cleanse the treated area, carefully using warm water and allowing it to run gently over the area. Pat the area dry with a soft towel. Do not massage or rub the treated area vigorously.

8.    Avoid placing any powder, ointments, lotions, creams, cosmetics or oils on the treated skin area, unless directed by your physician.

9. Skin is to be free of any creams or ointments prior to treatment, unless necessary to control symptoms.

10.    Protect your skin from excessive sun exposure. The use of sunscreen products of SPF 15 (sun protection factor) or higher are encouraged.

11.    Do not use a deodorant or shave if the underarm area is being treated, unless allowed by your health care team.

12.    MEN: If beard area is being treated, use of an electric razor is recommended. Do not use pre-shave or after shave lotion.

13.    If the brain is irradiated, baldness will result. After the second to third week of treatment, the follicles start to release the hair. Whether or not the hair regrows depends on the total dose of radiation given. The physician will discuss this with you. It is advisable for female patients to have a head covering. Men may use a cap to protect the skin from the sun and wind. 

14.    As your treatment progresses, the physician will advise you regarding skin care and if necessary, will prescribe special medications such as ointments and creams for any skin reactions should they occur.

Post Radiation Skin Care:

The skin changes will usually subside two to four weeks after the treatment course is completed.

The skin may be dry, scaly and slightly darker (tanned) or lighter than normal after treatment.

The sebaceous glands that lubricate the skin in the treated area may be less active after treatment. After the treatments have been completed, you may wish to apply a moisturizing lotion or ointment of your choice to the treated area. If you use a lotion, check that it does not contain alcohol, as this will further dry the skin.

It is permissible to expose the treated area to limited sunshine but avoid repeated sun tan or any sun burns in previously irradiated skin. It is advisable to use a sun screen on the area that has been treated. This will help avoid premature skin aging in the treated area.

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