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Skin Care During Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy can cause several side effects. Most of them will go away once treatment ends. The ones you have depend on the location of the tumor. They are also affected by your general health. Keep in mind that side effects do not impact the effectiveness of the radiation therapy on your cancer.

TIP: Ask a family member or friend to help you apply lotion in areas that you can’t reach.

Man and woman outdoors, gardening.
Protect sensitive areas from the sun with a hat or clothing.

Sensitive Skin

Changes may occur in your skin. This is due to normal skin cells reacting to the radiation therapy. The effects on skin are similar to a mild sunburn. They include:

  • Dryness

  • Itching

  • Redness

  • Peeling

Most skin reactions will heal one to three weeks after therapy stops.

Self-Care Tips

  • Try to keep sun off the irradiated area. Your skin is already sensitive. It is more prone to sunburn.

  • Keep reference marks from fading. These ink marks are used to help position you for treatment. When you bathe, don’t scrub them. Let water run over them. Pat them dry gently. Do not remove marks until your technologist tells you it’s OK.

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

  • Use moisturizing lotions on your skin to help with dryness. Do not apply lotions to the irradiated area right before treatment sessions.

  • Talk with your radiation oncology team if you’re having skin problems.

Online Medical Reviewer: Fincannon, Joy, RN, MN
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 2/3/2014
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