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Skin Care During Cancer Treatment

Skin reaction (side effects) from radiation treatments vary according to the amount of radiation given, number of treatment, type of radiation energy used, area treated, and the condition of the skin before treatment is started.  The severity of skin reaction varies from person to person.

Modern Radiation Treatments have a much lower risk for severe burns compared to older radiation techniques, and you can only develop a radiation skin reaction in the area where you will be receiving radiation.


Radiation therapy may make the skin in the treatment field dry, red, or irritated.  Tanning or peeling may occur as your skin heals.  These changes occur gradually.  Your doctor, nurse, and therapists will monitor your skin reaction and make recommendations to help you. 




  • Protect your skin

  • Keep your marks




  • Treat the irradiated skin very gently; use your hand to wash instead of a washcloth.  Pat the skin dry with a soft towel. Never rub, scrub, or scratch.


  • The ink markings are not to be washed off.


  • If the markings are waist level or below, do not take tub baths.  Brief showers or sponge baths are preferable-using luke warm water and mild soap like dove or dial.  Hot water could harm the skin.


  • Avoid extreme heat or cold to the irradiated area (heating pads, aqua pad, heat lamp, or ice packs). 


  • Wear soft, loose fitting clothing.  Fabrics with high cotton content are more comfortable.  (The skin marking may wear off on your clothing, so old clothing is preferred.)


  • Avoid tight, constricting clothing: bras, girdles, tight collars, or waistbands if in the radiation field.



  • Do not use the following on the irradiated skin: deodorants, anti-perspirants, harsh soaps, cream, talc, powder, cosmetics, or medicines.  These agents can irritate the skin or interact with the radiation and cause skin reactions.


  • Patients may use 100% aloe vera gel, aquaphor, hydrocortisone cream or other products on the treated area if okay with their Radiation Oncology physician.  These can be applied to the area after your treatment or at least 1 hour prior to a treatment.


  • Avoid direct trauma to the skin.  Do not use adhesives - tape, Band-Aids, or medicine patches on the treated skin area.


  • Avoid saunas, hot tubs and direct exposure of the irradiated skin to the sun. 


  • Protect the treatment area from the sun for 1 year by covering the skin with light clothing and using a sun block with a SPF 30 or higher. Please apply the sunscreen only after the skin has healed.


  • Expose the irradiated skin to the air as much as possible.    


  • Do not shave the treated area.  If shaving is necessary use an electric razor.  Again, avoid shaving creams and aftershave.


  • Cornstarch and baking soda are natural moisture absorbers, which may be used on the skin in moist areas of the body, such as under the arm, and are safe to use in the radiation field and under the arm (in place of deodorant).


  • Crystal deodorant or Tom’s (Tom’s of Maine) deodorant are also ok to use during treatments.

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