Let’s address the difficult problem of radiation burns. The skin is so fragile, tender and inflamed, that even clothing rubbing against it can be too painful. Radiation burns (or radiation dermatitis) can range from very mild to serious, and involve damage to the outer layer of skin (or occasionally, the inner tissue) due to the high frequency energy of ionizing radiotherapy used for cancer treatment.
The medical and diagnostic usage of X-rays or radiation actually causes skin cells to die, and therefore leads to red areas of skin that resemble a sunburn, and sometimes develop blisters or open sores that can be oozing and gooey. Burns can become increasingly severe depending upon the repeated frequency of radiation treatment, or the amount targeted at a specific area of the body.
Here are a few things you can do to try to minimize the amount of damage to irradiated areas. To begin with, try preparing for radiation treatment weeks in advance by moisturizing. (CV Skinlabs Calming Moisture and Body Repair Lotion both provide penetrating moisture without potentially harmful chemicals.) Target areas 2–3 weeks ahead of time, and hydrate your body (and skin) by drinking plenty of water. Damage to the skin from radiation treatment typically occurs 1–2 weeks after treatment begins, and usually resolves itself 2 weeks after radiation ends. While undergoing radiation, the treated area may start to get pink or red, dry and irritated, or start looking like a burn or suntan.
Remember the following tips when undergoing your treatment (provided by the National Cancer Institute): Take lukewarm showers or baths, avoid activities that rub the skin, and never using anything on the skin that is extremely hot or cold (like heating pads or ice packs). Wear loose, light-weight clothing that allows plenty of room for air to reach the affected area, and avoid scratching or touching the region whenever possible. For soothing, immediate relief, try CV Skinlabs Rescue + Relief Spray. It’s made of natural ingredients and can be applied multiple times a day, whenever you need it.
Some women who have radiation for breast cancer following a lumpectomy may find that cotton bras are the most comfortable. (For more information on dressing your body after surgery or treatments, please read “Fashion After Breast Cancer.“) It’s especially crucial to avoid sun exposure, wear protective clothing, and use a chemical-free, mineral-based sunblock on radiation burns. (For some sun-block suggestions, please read our post “Photosensitivity: How Can We Protect Ourselves During Chemotherapy?,” or click here for Dr. Weil’s advice on treating serious burns.) To read our post on our top toxin-free products to help you cool and soothe radiation burns, click here.
* Please share your experiences with radiation treatments and what you have used to alleviate the pain from the burns.
Photo Courtesy of Preston Hunt’s Hodgkins Journal.