Skin problems

External beam radiation therapy may make skin in the treatment area dry and itchy. Your skin may look red, sunburnt or tanned. Less commonly, it may peel and feel painful. Skin changes often start 10–14 days after the first treatment and improve with time.

You may need dressings and creams to assist healing, avoid infection and make you more comfortable, and you might be prescribed a special moisturiser. Pain medicine can help if the skin is very sore. Let your treatment team know about skin changes, such as cracks or blisters, moist areas, rashes, infections or peeling.

Tips for caring for your skin

  • Follow skin care instructions from your treatment team as soon as treatment starts, even before you notice any skin changes. Check with your treatment team before using any over-the-counter creams.
  • Avoid using razors, hair dryers, hot water bottles, heat packs, wheat bags or icepacks on the area.
  • Bathe or shower in lukewarm water, as hot or very cold water can damage sensitive skin. Do not use harsh soaps or other products. Pat skin dry with a soft towel.
  • Let skin markings wear off gradually. Don’t scrub your skin to remove them.
  • Wear loose, soft cotton clothing. Avoid tight-fitting items, belts or collars over the treatment area.
  • Cover your skin before going outside and stay out of the sun when you can.
  • Avoid chlorinated swimming pools, spas and saunas.

This information was last reviewed in December 2017
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