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Skin Care During Radiation Therapy

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Radiation therapy can cause side effects to your skin. The side effects you have depend on the type of cancer, location of the tumor, radiation therapy dose, and your general health. Keep in mind that side effects don't affect how well the radiation therapy works on your cancer.

Some skin side effects take several days or weeks to develop. In some cases, skin reactions may occur days after radiation therapy has ended.

Important

Prevent your radiation therapy reference marks from fading. These ink marks are used to help position your body for radiation therapy. When you bathe, don’t scrub them. Let water run over them. Pat them dry gently. Don't remove marks until your healthcare provider tells you it’s OK.

Changes to your skin

Radiation therapy kills cancer cells. But it also harms healthy cells. This can cause effects on skin that look like a mild sunburn. These include:

  • Dryness

  • Itching

  • Redness

  • Peeling

  • Tanned skin

  • Blistering

Most skin reactions will heal 1 to 3 weeks after radiation therapy treatments have ended. In some cases, treated skin will stay darker and be more sensitive than it was before treatment.

Self-care tips

  • Wear loose clothing. This will help prevent rubbing on sensitive skin.

  • Clean your skin daily with warm water and mild soap, or as advised.

  • Don't use lotion, perfume, deodorant, or powder in the treatment area.

  • Don't use products that contain alcohol, which may cause dryness.

  • Don't put anything hot or cold on the treated skin, such as heating pads or ice packs.

  • Stay out of the sun. If you must be outdoors, wear a hat and clothing to protect the skin. After treatment, use SPF 15 or higher sunscreen.

  • Talk with your radiation oncology team if you’re having skin problems that don’t get better after treatment has ended, or get worse.

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Richard LoCicero MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2021
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