How Radiation Burns Happen
Radiation treatment kills cancer cells, but it may also damage healthy cells. Because external radiation needs to pass through your skin to reach the cancer cells, your skin may be affected. Changes, including burns, may happen if the skin doesnt have enough time to heal between treatment sessions.
Radiation burns, also known as X-ray dermatitis or radiation dermatitis, may start showing up about two weeks into external radiation treatment. These burns are common, but they tend to be mild and usually resolve within two months after radiation treatment ends. Burns and other skin changes may occur on and around the treated area, but nowhere else on your body.
Anyone undergoing radiation therapy may experience radiation burns, but they are especially common in patients undergoing treatment for certain cancers, such as head and neck cancers, breast cancer and cancers that form on or close to the skin, such as and skin cancer, including melanoma.
Avoid Irritating Your Skin In The Treatment Area
- Wear loose-fitting, cotton clothing over the treated area.
- Use only the moisturizers, creams, or lotions that are recommended by your doctor or nurse.
- Dont use makeup, perfumes, powders, or aftershave in the area being treated.
- You can use deodorant on intact skin in the area being treated. Stop using it if your skin becomes irritated.
- Dont shave the treated skin. If you must shave, use an electric razor and stop if the skin becomes irritated.
- Dont put any tape on the treated skin.
- Dont let your treated skin come into contact with extreme hot or cold temperatures. This includes hot tubs, water bottles, heating pads, and ice packs.
- Dont apply any patches to the treated area, including pain patches.
- If your skin is itchy, dont scratch it. Ask your nurse for recommendations on how to relieve the itching.
- If you dont have any skin reactions during the treatment, you can swim in a chlorinated pool. However, be sure to rinse off the chlorine right after getting out of the pool.
- Avoid tanning or burning your skin during and after youre finished with treatment. If youre going to be in the sun, use a PABA-free sunblock with an SPF of 30 or higher. Also, wear loose-fitting clothing that covers you as much as possible.
Skin Reactions From Radiation Therapy
Skin changes are common and expected during radiation therapy. Each person reacts to treatment in a different way.
The type of skin reaction that you may get depends on:
- The part of your body thats being treated.
- The type and dose of radiation that you get.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you smoke or if you have:
- High blood pressure
- Any collagen vascular diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or dermatomyositis
- A history of skin cancer in the area to be radiated
These conditions may affect how your wounds heal and how much of a reaction you have to radiation therapy.
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How Is Radiation Dermatitis Treated
Healthcare providers may recommend creams to ease symptoms like dry, itchy skin. They also may prescribe special creams to treat severe radiation dermatitis or radiation burns. For example, if youre being treated for breast cancer, your provider may prescribe a steroid cream to reduce your risk of developing radiation dermatitis. Talk to your provider before using any cream or other moisturizer. They will let you know what creams are safe and the best ways to use them.
How long does it take for radiation burn symptoms to heal?
Most mild radiation burn symptoms subside a few weeks after you finish your treatment. Ask your healthcare provider if your radiation therapy might cause delayed radiation dermatitis symptoms.
Will I need to stop radiation therapy if I have radiation burn?
No, most people dont need to stop radiation treatment because they develop radiation dermatitis. But your healthcare provider may adjust your treatment so your current symptoms dont get worse or so you don’t develop new symptoms.
Are there other steps I can take to help my skin heal or reduce symptoms?
Here are some ways you can protect your skin and ease your radiation burn symptoms:
Antibiotic Creams And Ointments
Burns leave the body susceptible to infection. While its essential with an open wound to use a disinfectant, its just as important, if not more so, for burns. Antibiotic, anti-microbial and anti-septic all mean the same thing: they prevent harmful microbes and bacteria from colonizing the wound and causing infection. It is not advised to pour drinking alcohol or rubbing alcohol on the burn or wound, as this could cause the death of helpful microbes and bacteria and delay healing. Instead, use commonly available bacitracin or neomycin-based ointments. If suffering from a more severe burn, consider using silver-based anti-septic gels or ointments, like those used in burn centers to keep burn patients safe from infection. Gentle cleansing with gentle soap and water, and then apply an antibiotic ointment or cream with a non-stick dressing. The burn center has many different kinds that may not be available at your local pharmacy, so if you find that you are dissatisfied with whats available, reach out to your burn care provider.
If your burn is already infected, your doctor may prescribe a topical antibiotic medication or an oral antibiotic. Check with your healthcare provider before starting something different.
*If your burns are more severe or you are currently receiving treatment, check with your doctor before applying any gel, cream or ointment to ensure it does not interfere with your care plan.
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Radiation Burn: What To Know
A radiation “burn” or rash is a common side effect of radiation therapy for cancer. Itâs also called radiation dermatitis. Thereâs no clear way to stop it from happening. But thereâs a lot you can do to take care of your skin if you get one. Hereâs what you need to know.
What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor
Radiation burn or radiation dermatitis is a very common radiation therapy side effect. Here are some questions to help you prepare for your treatment and its effect on your skin:
- How does radiation therapy for my cancer affect my skin?
- What are radiation dermatitis symptoms and when do they occur?
- Is there anything I can do to prevent radiation burn?
- Are there soaps, lotions and creams I can use, or should avoid?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Radiation therapy is a common and effective cancer treatment. Unfortunately, this effective treatment can come with side effects, including radiation burn or radiation dermatitis. You can develop radiation burn or radiation dermatitis if youre being treated for head and neck cancer, breast cancer, skin cancer or other cancers that are on or close to your skin. Radiation burn symptoms can range from mild irritation to more serious symptoms such as infections and open sores. As you prepare for radiation treatment, ask your healthcare provider how treatment might affect your skin. They will tell you what to expect, and as important, what they will do to help if you develop radiation burn.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/29/2021.
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Can I Buy Something Similar Cheaper Elsewhere
One of the most common questions that a lot of customers ask is, Can I buy something similar cheaper elsewhere? The short answer is no. When you are looking for a quality cream for radiation burns, the most important thing to know is that cheap is not always better. You should carefully research the best cream for radiation burns before buying and consult the prices on some online sales websites to make the best decision.
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Best Burn Cream Over The Counter Reviews
Choosing the appropriate burn cream over the counter can be tough. However, if you consider these factors, your job will be easier.
- Product Quality: A product that you won’t have to buy again or that will last you a long time is an important consideration, especially when it comes to the burn cream over the counter. Nobody would want a low-quality or easily worn-out object. They are even willing to spend a somewhat greater price for a good product.
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Camwell For Radiation Treatments
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What Is A Radiation Burn
Radiation “burns” are not actually burns! They are a type of dermatitis or skin irritation caused by high levels of radiation exposure on the skin. Radiation exposure can originate from various sources including: prolonged UV light exposure, high levels of X-ray exposure from medical imaging procedures, and radiation therapy used in cancer treatment.
S To Caring For Burns After Radiation Therapy
A cancer diagnosis has a significant impact on the emotional health of people and their families. Common experiences include anxiety, distress, and depression. Added to the diagnosis is the additional burden of treatment, which often comes with its own list of physical and emotional challenges. One of those treatments is radiation therapy.
Nearly 50% of all patients with a cancer diagnosis will receive radiation therapy during their illness. Of those, approximately 85% have a moderate to severe radiation burns and 60% of all cancer happens to older adults. This adds physical discomfort and may even delay treatment in older adults who may already have nutritional deficits, poor appetite and frailty.
The burns typically show up in the first two weeks of treatment and as many as 25% of patients will develop an ulceration and moist skin peeling. General symptoms include blistering of the skin, soreness, peeling, itching, pigment changes, and fibrosis.
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During Radiation Therapy: Be Gentle And Protect Your Skin
You want to start doing the following on the day you begin radiation therapy and continue until youve stopped radiation and your skin feels normal.
Bathing and shaving: Skin can become very sensitive during radiation therapy. You can reduce the risk of side effects by following these tips:
Wash the treated skin gently every day with warm water. Washing helps remove bacteria from your skin, which can cause an infection. Be very gentle when washing your skin in the area thats receiving radiation therapy. You can easily irritate it, which can cause side effects on your skin. To avoid irritating your skin, skip the washclothes, sponges, and loofahs. Instead, use your hands to gently splash water on the treated skin.
Use a gentle, low-pH cleanser if you need to cleanse. Your care team may recommend skin care products that you can use. If not, ask. When using a cleanser, gently apply it with your hands and rinse it off with warm water. Again, you dont want to use a washcloth or sponge, which can irritate your skin.
Ignore the lines drawn on your skin. You may want to scrub these lines off, but trying to remove them will irritate your skin.
Avoid shaving the treated skin. This can irritate your skin, which could cause a painful rash.
Apply moisturizer every day as directed. This helps your skin recover more quickly from treatment, but dont apply moisturizer to a wound. Be sure to use only the moisturizer that your cancer team recommends, and apply it as directed.
Cancer Patients Can Now Use Skin Creams During Radiation Therapy
Contrary to the advice most cancer patients receive when they go through radiation treatment, topical skin treatments, unless applied very heavily, do not increase the radiation dose to the skin and can be used in moderation before daily radiation treatments. A new study from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found that while 91 percent of clinicians surveyed said they advised patients to avoid these skin treatments and 83 percent of patients surveyed said they’d received this guidance from their doctors, testing showed there was no difference in the radiation skin dose with or without these creams. They published their findings in JAMA Oncology today.
Nearly two-thirds of all cancer patients in the United States will undergo radiation therapy as part of their treatment, and as many as 90 percent of those patients will experience radiation dermatitisa rash or burn on the skin. Both prescription and over-the-counter topical treatments are commonly used to give patients relief, some of whichsuch as silver sulfadiazine creamcontain heavy metals. However, patients have historically been advised to avoid using these treatments in the hours before radiation therapy to avoid increasing the amount of radiation absorbed by the skin.
“These results suggest the recommendation is still widespread among patients undergoing radiation therapy,” Baumann said.
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Prevention Of Acute Radiation
Overall, there is a general lack of support in literature for choosing Biafine over other agents in prevention of acute radiation-induced skin reactions. There is some evidence to suggest that topical corticosteroid agents may be beneficial in decreasing the incidence of radiation dermatitis, especially grade 3 and 4 reactions 19,21. The evidence for the use of nonsteroidal topical agents is conflicting: some trials were positive for nonsteroidal agents 30,33,35,37 others showed no statistical difference 34,36,38. The evidence did not support the use of Aloe vera22,23 or sucralfate cream 31,32. There was some evidence to suggest that led treatment, pentoxifylline, silver-leaf dressings, washing with soap and water, and zinc supplements help to prevent radiation-induced skin reactions 3,17,4345. A large multicentric rct comparing breast imrt with standard breast radiation treatment showed a significant reduction in moist desquamation in the imrt group.
Study: Skin Creams May Be Ok During Radiation
“Patients are routinely advised not to apply anything on the skin prior to treatment,” explained radiation oncologist Dr. Lucille Lee, of Northwell Health Cancer Institute in Lake Success, N.Y.
According to Lee, who wasn’t involved in the new research, the concern has been that skin creams might somehow boost the amount of radiation absorbed by the skin.
That could worsen “the skin reaction, which is the primary side-effect of breast irradiation,” she said.
The new study was conducted by a team at the University of Pennsylvania. Nearly two-thirds of cancer patients in the United States receive radiation therapy, the researchers said, and as many as 90 percent of those patients develop radiation dermatitis, a rash or burn on the skin.
Patients often turn to prescription and over-the-counter skin cream treatments for relief.
But in a survey conducted by the study authors, 91 percent of 105 doctors and nurses said they told patients to avoid the creams before radiation therapy, and 83 percent of 133 patients said they’d received the warning from their doctors.
However, the study’s lead author, Dr. Brian Baumann, believes the warnings are “a holdover from the early days of radiation therapy.”
For her part, Lee said patients should consult with their doctors on the issue.
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