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What is a Radiation Burn?

Radiation Dermatitis (also called Radiation Burn) is a common side effect of radiation therapy in which the skin of the treated area becomes red and irritated. It occurs to some degree in most patients who undergo radiation therapy. Radiation kills not only cancer cells, but also some healthy cells. This causes the skin to peel. Damage to the skin can occur within 1 to 2 weeks of treatment and usually resolves when treatment is finished.

Symptoms of radiation dermatitis include hair loss, dry desquamation, wet desquamation, decreased sweating, edema, ulcerations, bleeding and skin cell death. The extent of symptoms depends on the total radiation dose, the size of the area treated, fractionation and the type of radiation used. In severe cases, radiation therapy must be discontinued until the skin heals. Unfortunately, discontinuing therapy can compromise treatment.

What Should I Do if I Have Radiation Burns?
  • Keep the skin moisturized and lubricated to prevent itching and cracking of the skin. Be sure to use fragrance-free products.
  • Applying Fresh Aloe Vera to affected area to soothe the irritation.
  • Wash with lukewarm water only, not hot water.
  • Avoid hot baths. This will further dry your skin. Take a quick shower instead.
  • Pat yourself dry with a towel instead of rubbing your skin.
  • Do not rub off the markings your radiation therapist made on your skin. They are necessary to show where to place the radiation.
  • Do not use heating pads, ice packs or bandages on the area receiving the radiation.
  • Avoid using oils that will reduce the efficacy of radiation treatment.
  • Use nonadhesive dressings, as traumatic removal could cause further damage to already compromised skin.
  • Do not wear tight clothing around the treated area.
  • Avoid using a skin care product immediately before radiation therapy. This could interfere with treatment.
  • Choose clothes and bed sheets made of soft cotton.
  • Use an electric razor if your doctor or nurse says you can shave.
  • Avoid exposing the treated area to the sun while you are being treated.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing, especially over the treated area.
  • After your treatment is over, ask your doctor or nurse how long you should continue to take precautions from the sun.

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