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Skin and Radiotherapy

During radiotherapy, your skin is the only barrier between radiation treatments and your cancer. Along with the body’s mucus, it becomes extremely sensitive, with the side effects limited to the irradiated areas due to it being a localised treatment.

Your Symptoms

Radiotherapy often causes side effects and inflammation to the treated zones: dermatitis, redness, irritation, pain, and even blisters. Dryness can occur within the treated area, which can also cause your skin to darken before the end of the treatment.

Side effects caused by radiotherapy usually start right after the second half of your treatment and disappear shortly after treatment has finished.

Important Things to Keep in Mind

Radiotherapy burns your skin, so do not wait for your skin to react before doing something about it!

Before your Radiotherapy Session

24 hours before an appointment, do not apply any creams or anything greasy to the area that will be irradiated (no creams, body lotion or oils), as this can increase the toxicity of the X-rays on the surface of the skin.

Wash Yourself Carefully
  • Wash yourself once a day with warm water. You should use soap-free soap as it will not dry out your skin (soap-free dermatological bars are perfume-free and preservative-free)

  • Avoid long, hot baths as they can cause skin maceration or overheating on the irradiated zone

  • Be aware: do not wash off the marks drawn on your skin by the Radiotherapist. These marks are used to limit the area of radiation and should remain for the duration of your treatment

  • Delicately pat yourself dry with a soft towel, particularly focusing on the more humid areas and creases (underarms, neck, groin…)

  • Avoid shaving over the irradiated zones during treatment

Protect Yourself
  • Hydrate your skin with creams and lotions up until the day before your treatment begins. The day of your radiotherapy appointment, make sure you do not apply any creams or moisturisers

  • Avoid any rubbing or irritation. Wear soft, loose, cotton clothes and undergarments. It is advised to steer clear of any synthetic fabrics

  • Avoid sun exposure and protect your skin during your radiotherapy treatments. This will also need to be done for up to 12 months following treatment to avoid skin hyper-pigmentation

  • Protect the irradiated zone from extreme temperatures: hot water bottles, infra-red light, cold packs (risk of pigmentation/depigmentation)

  • Do not apply any alcohol-based perfumes, deodorants, acetone (nail polish remover), talc or any other irritating product to the irradiated area

  • When you are in the car, place a piece of soft fabric between the irradiated zone and the seatbelt to avoid any rubbing

Itching and Infections
  • Avoid scratching!

  • You should not use any cosmetics, creams or lotions without informing your doctor. He/she will be able to approve or prescribe a more adapted product if necessary (Thermal spring water gel by Avene, Biafine…). Let them know if you have any itching, infections or skin pigmentation

  • If your skin is damaged or the erythema (redness) is painful and constant, your doctor can prescribe a hydro-cortisone cream. If the wound starts seeping, they will most likely prescribe an alcohol-free local antiseptic (For example, Aqueous Eosin). If there is a lot of exudation (seeping), you can use occlusive dressings such as Tulle Dressing (fabric based non-allergic dressings dipped in soft paraffin oil and olive oil)

After Radiotherapy

Avoid perfumes, alcohol-based products and sun exposure for at least 6 to 12 months after your treatment.

Additional Advice for Certain Radiotherapies

Mouth, Neck or Thorax Irradiation
  • Drink lots of water
  • Make sure you maintain excellent oral hygiene: use mouthwash daily
  • Stop any alcohol and tobacco
  • Avoid any acidic, spicy and hot foods
  • If you have trouble swallowing, you can increase the number of small meals you eat in the day
Abdomen Irradiation
  • Opt for a diet that is low in gluten, residue-free (avoid non-digestible cellulose and fibers) and dairy-free, with lean ingredients that can be lightly heated
  • Avoid eating foods rich in cellulose (green vegetables, cold meats, fried foods, fatty meats and cheeses and spices)
Lung Irradiation
  • Stay away from dust and cigarette smoke
  • Drink warm or room-temperature drinks (not too hot, not too cold)
Prostate and Bladder Irradiation
  • Drink lots of water: 2 to 3 litres a day
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea