Prevention of Skin Reactions caused by Radiation Therapy

Cancer patients who undergo radiation therapy are most likely to develop a skin reaction on the treated area. Aloe Vera gel or vegetable oil on the affected area proves to be very effective in reducing the severity of skin reactions.

Radiation therapy is a common treatment for cancer patients. One of the most common side effects of radiation is acute skin reaction that may vary from mild rashes to severe ulcers.  The skin reaction could be in any form: redness in skin, itching sensation, cracked skin, blisters, bumpy skin, dryness, and swelling and sometimes may even be painful. In addition, radiation-induced skin reactions lead to delayed treatment, and diminished aesthetic appearance and subsequently decrease the quality of life.

Skin reactions due to radiation therapy are usually evident within 1–4 weeks from the start of the therapy, persist for the duration of the therapy, and may require 2–4 weeks to heal after completion of the therapy. The skin in the area being exposed to the radiation during the therapy absorbs some amount of radiation, thus causing skin reactions. The radiation therapy works by blocking specific molecules present in the cancer cells. These molecules are also essential for the normal development of skin cells, and blocking those results in reactions.

A recent review of the literature surrounding the subject summarizes the prevention and management mechanisms and the various agents used for skin reactions caused by Radiation Therapy. It is generally agreed that the ideal method for preventing and minimizing skin reactions is ‘moisturizing’ the irradiated area. The review systematically explores the benefits of plant-based treatments for skin rashes among others that help in providing the required moisture to the skin. The findings indicated that use of substances such as Aloe Vera gel or vegetable oil on the affected area proves to be very effective in reducing the severity of skin reactions. Plus, with plant-based treatments, the risk of potential side effects comes down drastically. General advice given to patients undergoing the Radiation Therapy includes: Avoid the use of metallic-based topical products, Wear loose-fitting clothing over the irradiated area to prevent friction injuries, maintain a clean and dry irradiated area, avoid extreme temperatures, and avoid the use of starch-based products because they increase the risk of infection.

The goal of radiotherapy is to provide maximum benefit to the patient with minimal side effects. However, even with the most modern radiotherapy techniques, up to 90% of patients experience a dose-dependent skin reaction at the treated area. To date, attempts to prevent or manage radiation-induced skin reactions appear somewhat haphazard, including the use of various agents like creams and lotions. One can only hope that future efforts in this direction would prevent or attenuate the very onset of such reactions, and in situations where the damage cannot be avoided, the healing process should at least be accelerated.


Prophylaxis and management of acute radiation-induced skin reactions: a systematic review of the literature – A review by N. Salvo, E. Barnes, J. van Draanen, E. Stacey, G. Mitera, D. Breen, A. Giotis, G. Czarnota, J. Pang, and C. De Angelis conducted at the Department of Pharmacy & Department of Radiation Oncology, Edmond Odette Cancer Centre, Toronto.

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Author: Ann M
Verified and Approved by: Dr. Bimal Rajalingam
Conflict of Interest: None
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Disclaimer: This article is written by a non-medical professional. 

Monday, January 16, 2012