Caring for Radiation Damaged Skin

Nothing focuses the mind more than a presentation to an entire oncology, (chemotherapy and radiotherapy) department.
I was lucky enough to have been invited to speak at The Beacon Hospital in Dublin and was been given free choice of the subjects to be covered in my 90 minute workshop. Free choice? What a challenge! There are so many subjects to choose from.
Here are but some of the choices
  • Skincare for cancer patients
  • How we developed Defiant Beauty
  • Why we developed Defiant Beauty
  • Helping skin damaged by radiotherapy
  • Skin related side-effects of chemotherapy
  • The psycho-social impact of changed appearance as a result of cancer treatment (would you get me with my big words?)
  • What’s in skincare?
  • What’s in make-up?
More research was done when trying to decide upon the subject for the website. It was clear that we needed an update to our previous advice about soothing skin that has been damaged by radiotherapy. The last article about radiotherapy and it’s impact on skin covered the use of oils, gels and creams and discussed the negative impact that some ingredients such as aloe and avocado (natural plant oestrogens) can have on the cancer whilst having a potential benefit to the skin.
The caution that should be taken when applying oils was also discussed –never apply oils before radiotherapy and always ask your medical team for advice. Having read more and more about radiotherapy and it’s use for the prevention of many cancers including breast cancer, ovarian cancer, liver cancer, womb cancer, uterine cancer, mouth cancer, head and neck cancer, adolescent cancers and teenage cancers, I felt more information about radiation and the skin was needed – here goes…

The Damage

An enormous (that is the technical term) study carried out by a team in Canada1 found that 90% of patients experience an adverse skin reaction in the area treated with radiation2-5. The skin reaction may vary from a red rash to dry, itchy, peeling skin or an open wound or ulceration6. The skin reaction usually starts within 1-4 weeks of radiotherapy starting and can take 2-4 weeks after radiotherapy ends to clear7 The study found a lack of standardized advice for skincare during radiotherapy but suggested the following
  • During or after radiation treatment, avoid the use of metallic-based topical products (zinc oxide creams or deodorants with an aluminum base, for instance), because they may increase the surface dose to skin8.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing over the area receiving radiation treatment area to prevent friction injuries 2,8.
  • Maintain a clean and dry irradiated area2
  • Avoid extreme temperatures2
  • Avoid the use of starch-based products because they increase the risk of infection2
The study went on (I did say it was an enormous study) to compare the different types of product offered to cancer patients and those going through treatment for cancer to lessen the impact of skin damaged as a result of radiation treatment for cancer. It found that calendula based products are ‘highly effective for the prevention of acute dermatitis of grade 2 or higher and should be proposed for patients undergoing postoperative irradiation for breast cancer’9. The study was conducted only on breast cancer patients, hence the recommendation that Calendula based skin care products be proposed to breast cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment after surgery. If you need any help finding a Calendula-based natural skincare product-just ask. I’d be delighted to help. Please feel free to contact me. This information may help to reduce the discomfort and pain often suffered by cancer patients and those going through cancer treatment be it radiation treatment for breast cancer, ovarian cancer, liver cancer, womb cancer, uterine cancer, mouth cancer, head and neck cancer or adolescent cancers. Ask your medical team about it.


1 Salvo N, Barnes E, van Draanen J, Stacey E, Mitera G, Breen D, Giotis A, Czarnota G Pang J and De Angelis C.Prophylaxis and management of acute radiation-induced skin reactions: a systematic review of the literature. Current Oncology—VOlume 17, number 4 p94-112 2
2 Maddock–Jennings W, Wilkinson JM, Shillington D. Novel approaches to radiation-induced skin reactions: a literature review. Complement Ther Clin Pract 2005;11:224–31.
3 Primavera G, Carrera M, Berardesca E, Pinnaró P, Messina M, Arcangeli G. A double-blind, vehicle controlled clinical study to evaluate the efficacy of MAS065D (Xclair), a hyaluronic acid based formulation, in the management of radiation-induced dermatitis. Cutan Ocul Toxicol 2006;25:165–71.
4 DeLand MM, Weiss RA, McDaniel DH, Geronemus RG. Treat- ment of radiation-induced dermatitis with light-emitting diode (led) photomodulation. Lasers Surg Med 2007;39:164–8.
5 MacBride SK, Wells ME, Hornsby C, Sharp L, Finnila K, Downie L. A case study to evaluate a new soft silicone dress- ing, Mepilex Lite, for patients with radiation skin reactions. Cancer Nurs 2008;31:E8–14.
6 Bolderston A, Lloyd NS, Wong RK, Holden L, Robb–Blender- man L. The prevention and management of acute skin reactions to radiation therapy: a systematic review and practice guideline. Support Care Cancer 2006;14:802–17.
7 Hymes SR, Strom EA, Fife C. Radiation dermatitis: clinical presentation, pathophysiology, and treatment 2006. J Am Acad Dermatol 2006;54:28–46.
8 Harper JL, Franklin LE, Jenrette JM, Aguero EG. Skin toxicity during breast irradiation: pathophysiology and management. South Med J 2004;7:989–93. 9 Pommier Gomez F, Sunyach MP, D'Hombres A, Carrie C, Montbarbon XJ Phase III randomized trial of Calendula officinalis compared with trolamine for the prevention of acute dermatitis during irradiation for breast cancer. Clin Oncol.2004 Apr 15;22(8):1447-53.

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