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  • Writer's pictureJasmin Jones | Therapy Radiographer

Skin care during radiotherapy treatment


Radiotherapy skincare

Jasmin Jones is an experienced Therapeutic Radiographer with a BSc in Radiotherapy and Oncology and an MSc in Healthcare Leadership and Management. Jasmin shares some tips on how we can look after our skin during radiotherapy treatment.


 

Introducing Jasmin Jones

I am a Therapy Radiographer. I treat radiotherapy for cancer patients, but radiotherapy can also be given for non-cancerous or benign treatments too. I first came across radiotherapy in school at a careers evening, it was the healthcare avenue I was looking for, caring, rewarding, and yet technical too. I started this career over a decade ago, and soon realised my patients were using the wrong skincare products, or even using products that could worsen their side effects and I'll go into this in detail further on.


Radiotherapy timescales

Radiotherapy is an accumulative treatment, meaning it can take a week to two weeks to have any side effects, if any at all. However because of this build up it can also take time for the body to recover once you have finished treatment.


How radiotherapy can affect the skin?

Radiotherapy related burns or dermatitis can happen during your radiotherapy treatment, however it does depend on the area that is being treated and the type of treatment you are having. Your Therapy Radiographer will guide you with this.


Erythema - is the pinkening of the skin and this is one of the first stages of a radiation burn - similar to sun burn. A patient can moisturise this area, to encourage the skin to keep nice and supple and to minimise breakage, which in turn may increase infection.


Dry Desquamation - is when the skin starts to break and this is more likely to happen near the neck area or folds of skin where there is heat and friction which increases skin breakages. This is where you will need a barrier cream.


Which products to avoid during radiotherapy?

During treatment individuals aren’t able to use certain products which are rich, thick and heavy. Examples are:

- Vaseline

- Imperial Leather

- Sure

- Oils

- Sudocrem


Many patients come in for treatment using the wrong products and we have to tell them to stop using them. The reason being, it can trick the machine into thinking there’s an extra layer of skin there due to the thickness or the ingredients in the product itself.


Why are thick creams a problem during radiotherapy?

If you trick the radiotherapy machine into thinking there’s an extra layer of skin, it can increase your side effects and worsen the stages of a radiation burn. In a nutshell, the machines we work with are Linear Accelerators. They use high energy X-rays to treat a targeted volume. It is radiation that has been created from an electromagnetic spectrum to then hit a tungsten target, which creates high energy X-rays. It treats the specific area that needs to be treated and we give a small dose each time, sometimes over a number of weeks.


The radiation treatment you will receive depends on your diagnosis and the stage and grade of tumour, (some cancer’s may have been removed by then). We create a treatment plan specifically for each patient.


How to care for skin after radiotherapy treatment?

Side effects from radiotherapy tend to begin within a week to two weeks into treatment, however this differs for everyone. As radiotherapy treatment is accumulative, the skin will take a couple of weeks to repair itself after your last treatment.


heart drawn into cream on knee
It's important to care for skin during radiotherapy

The skin can be highly affected by radiation. The reason for this is the skin has a high turnover rate, meaning the cells are constantly evolving. It is because of this sensitivity that radiation affects the epithelial cells at a very fast rate. However it is also because of this the skin can also recover well and may only take a few weeks to heal.




Jasmin's radiotherapy skin care tips:

  • Pat the area dry, rather than rub with a towel, to minimise irritation.

  • Apply moisturiser morning and evening, and ensure the moisturiser is soaked in.

  • You can apply the moisturiser long term, to ensure the skin is nice and supple, and less dry and irritated. (Chemotherapy can also dry your skin out)

  • If the skin is broken, be careful not to use certain creams. It should say on the bottle whether to use the moisturiser on broken skin.

  • Your skin – long term will be sensitive to the sun, and therefore you should use at least 30SPF on your skin, to ensure it is protected.

  • You may need to cover the area with clothing to protect it from the sun, during your treatment, and this may be after too.

  • If the skin is still sensitive, and needs shaving, use an electric shaver rather than a razor.

  • Be careful with tight clothing, looser cotton or linen fabrics may be more comfortable.


 

CancerPal sells a range of skincare products to help ease the side effects of cancer and radiotherapy treatment, as well as a range of Radiotherapy Care Boxes full of products to help ease the side effects of radiotherapy treatment.

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