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Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer- Coping with Skin Reactions
Radiation therapy is a simple, painless and generally well tolerated tool for treating and even curing breast cancer. One of the most common side effects of radiation therapy to the breast (after a lumpectomy) or chest wall (after a mastectomy) is skin irritation. The reaction and its extent differ for each woman. Because radiation therapy is often such an important part of breast cancer treatment, it’s important to know how to lessen its side effects in order to get the most benefit from the therapy.
Dealing with skin irritation
Radiation-induced skin reactions are more likely to occur in people who received chemotherapy shortly before or during radiation therapy and in women who have a prominent crease below the breast crease. In fact, this area and the armpits are the most common areas of the breast to experience a skin reaction. Most skin reactions go away a few weeks after the end of radiation therapy.
Skin reactions are almost inevitable in women who receive radiation therapy to the chest wall after a mastectomy. As a result, many radiation oncology facilities give these women a one-week prophylactic break midway through treatment, to reduce the severity of skin reactions.
The severity of a skin reaction varies from person to person. This may become more noticeable as treatment progresses. A slight pinkish tint to the skin, bright redness, sunburned sensation, dryness, itching, scaling, darkening like a tan, blistering, and moist oozing may occur.
When the reaction is severe, such as a sharp redness that progresses to blisters and moist oozing from the skin, women are given a break from treatment, which usually lasts a week or two. This rest is usually sufficient to relieve the worst symptoms. If necessary, doctors can prescribe therapeutic creams. Irradiation can be resumed once the reaction has resolved.
Treat the reaction
During radiation therapy, women can avoid irritating the irradiated skin by not wearing a bra or by wearing a non-wired cotton sports bra that fits well below the breast or skin crease radiation from the chest wall. Women who can go without a bra altogether should do so. If this is not a comfortable solution, women should wear a bra as infrequently as possible to reduce the likelihood and/or degree of a skin reaction. In addition, ventilation of the irradiated skin makes it possible to minimize skin reactions.
Over-the-counter moisturizers without alcohol or fragrance can reduce the extent of a skin reaction. Often, radio-oncology teams prescribe these creams at the start of radiotherapy.
Women should also try to be kind to irradiated skin, which can easily become inflamed. Radiation oncologists suggest:
o Do not rub, rub or scratch the skin in the treatment area; instead, pat the skin dry and massage doctor-prescribed anti-itch creams or ointments onto the affected area.
o Avoid sun exposure of irradiated skin. When you go outside, wear opaque protective clothing such as a cotton t-shirt.
o Avoid tight-fitting blouses and bras on the area, unless otherwise specified.
o Use only lukewarm water and mild soap recommended by the radiation oncology team on the treated area.
o Avoid using ice packs or heating pads on treated skin.
o Avoid commercial deodorants and skin care products not approved by the treatment team.
o Do not shave the armpits on the treated side with a non-electric razor.
o Avoid skin care products for at least two hours before radiation therapy.
Although a number of people who undergo radiation therapy experience skin reactions, most overcome this temporary side effect. Working with their radiation oncology teams, people cross the metaphorical finish line of the radiation therapy course, usually victoriously. More importantly, they derive substantial benefits from radiation therapy and lead productive, cancer-free lives.
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#Radiation #Therapy #Breast #Cancer #Coping #Skin #Reactions