Skin Care

You may notice some redness or tanning of the skin in the treatment area while receiving radiation therapy.  This is NOT a burn, but is an expected reaction to radiation therapy, called radiation dermatitis.  Although sometimes the dermatitis causes the skin to blister, peel, and weep, this does NOT happen to everyone.  While you are getting treatment and for several weeks after treatment the skin must be protected from further injury.

Things to Do

Clean the skin GENTLY.  Remember that you may be treated in areas where you cannot see marks [such as your back and sides].  Showers or mild warm baths may be taken.  Wash the treated skin with mild soap, rinse thoroughly, and pat dry.  Do NOT scrub over the skin marks.  If they come off anyway, please do not try to re-draw them.  Try to keep the areas as dry as possible.  Corn starch or powders made with corn starch may be used.  If possible, try to keep the area uncovered and exposed to the air as much as possible to help keep it dry.

If itching should develop, notify your doctor or nurse in Radiation Oncology at the Cancer Center.  Try not to rub, scratch, or massage the treated skin.  Do NOT use any over the counter creams, lotions, or ointments without checking with the doctor or nurse in Radiation Oncology first.  Some of these products can make things worse.  We will give you a cream or ointment  especially made for radiation dermatitis if needed.

Things to Avoid

Avoid  tight fitting clothes or harsh fabrics around treated skin [bras, girdles, pantyhose, wool, etc].  Try to wear lightweight, loosefitting clothing.  Ask your nurse for advice.

Avoid  sunburn in the treatment area.  Keep the area covered and/or use sunscreen [at least SPF15] when outside. 

Avoid  letting the skin get too hot or too cold.  Do not use hot water bottles, heating pads, or ice packs in the treatment area, unless told to do so by your doctor or nurse in Radiation Oncology.  Keep the treated skin covered in the winter cold and wind.  You may need a hat and/or scarf too.

Avoid  swimming in salt water or chlorinated swimming pools, particularly if your skin does blister and peel.  Also stay away from hot tubs.  If you use swimming as an exercise, ask your doctor if it is alright to continue during treatment.

Avoid  putting any deodorants, perfumes or cosmetics on the treated skin.  Use only creams, ointments, and powders recommended by the Radiation Oncology staff.  On skin that is not being treated, you may use any products that you choose.  Just be careful to keep them away from the treated skin.

Avoid  shaving the hair in the treated area.  If you must shave, we advise using an electric razor.

Avoid  putting tape, bandaids, or dressings on the treated skin.  Try to keep it uncovered as much as possible.  If it becomes necessary to bandage the area, ask your nurse for her suggestions.

If your skin gets red or tan, the color will fade over time.  It may take several weeks to several months, and some color change may be permanent, particularly in African-Americans.  If you do get blisters, it generally takes 3-5 weeks for the blisters to heal and the skin to regrow.  PLEASE be patient - these blisters almost always heal on their own, and the doctors and nurses in Radiation Oncology will tell you what to do to help them heal.

Even after your treatments are done, the skin that was treated will remain more sensitive to heat, cold, and sunburn than the untreated skin.  Make sure you protect it correctly with clothing and sunscreens.