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HealthSheets™

Skin Care During Radiation Therapy

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Radiation therapy can cause side effects to your skin. 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 affect how well the radiation therapy works on your cancer.

Some skin side effects take several days or weeks to develop. In some cases, skin reactions may occur days after radiation therapy has ended.

Important: Prevent your radiation therapy reference marks from fading. These ink marks are used to help position your body for radiation therapy. When you bathe, don’t scrub them. Let water run over them. Pat them dry gently. Do not remove marks until your healthcare provider tells you it’s OK.

Changes to your skin

Radiation therapy kills cancer cells. But it also affects healthy cells. This can cause effects on skin that are like a mild sunburn. These include:

  • Dryness

  • Itching

  • Redness

  • Peeling

Most skin reactions will heal 1 to 3 weeks after therapy stops.

Self-care tips

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

  • Clean your skin daily with warm water and mild soap, or as advised

  • Don't use lotion, perfume, deodorant, or powder in the treatment area.

  • Don't use products that contain alcohol, which may cause dryness.

  • Don't put anything hot or cold on the treated skin, such as heating pads or ice packs.

  • Stay out of the sun. If you must be outdoors, wear a hat and clothing to protect the skin. After treatment, use SPF 15 or higher sunscreen.

  • Talk with your radiation oncology team if you’re having skin problems that don’t get better, or get worse.

© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.