- Cancer Information
- Cancer treatment
- Radiation therapy
- Managing radiation therapy side effects
- Skin problems
Depending on the part of the body treated, EBRT may make skin in the treatment area dry, itchy and flaky. Your skin may change in colour (look red, sunburnt or tanned) and may feel painful. Skin changes often start 10–14 days after the first treatment. They often get worse during treatment, before improving in the weeks after treatment.
You may need dressings and creams to help the area heal, avoid infection and make you more comfortable. Pain medicine can help if the skin is very sore. Let your radiation therapy team know about skin changes, such as cracks or blisters, moist areas, rashes, infections, swelling or peeling.
Taking care of your skin
- Clean your skin with warm water and a mild unscented soap. Gently pat skin dry with a soft towel rather than rubbing it.
- Ask your doctor or nurse what type of cream to use to moisturise the skin.
- Start moisturising your skin from the first day treatment starts, even before you notice any skin changes.
- Let temporary skin markings wear off by themselves. Don’t scrub your skin to remove them.
- Avoid using razors, hair dryers, hot water bottles, heat packs, wheat bags or icepacks on the area that has been treated.
- Apply sunscreen and wear a broad-brimmed hat when outside. Stay out of the sun where possible.
- Wear loose, soft cotton clothing. Avoid tight-fitting items, belts, underwire bras, jewellery or collars over the treatment area.
- Avoid chlorinated swimming pools, and spas and saunas. Check with your doctor about swimming in the sea.
Podcast: Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Prof June Corry, Radiation Oncologist, GenesisCare, St Vincent’s Hospital, VIC; Prof Bryan Burmeister, Senior Radiation Oncologist, GenesisCare Fraser Coast, Hervey Bay Hospital, and The University of Queensland, QLD; Sandra Donaldson, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Jane Freeman, Accredited Practising Dietitian (Cancer specialist), Canutrition, NSW; Sinead Hanley, Consumer; David Jolly, Senior Medical Physicist, Icon Cancer Centre Richmond, VIC; Christine Kitto, Consumer; A/Prof Grace Kong, Nuclear Medicine Physician, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; A/Prof Sasha Senthi, Radiation Oncologist, The Alfred Hospital and Monash University, VIC; John Spurr, Consumer; Chris Twyford, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Radiation Oncology, Cancer Rapid Assessment Unit and Outpatients, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Gabrielle Vigar, Nurse Unit Manager, Radiation Oncology/Cancer Outpatients, Cancer Program, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.