By Margot Malin, Founder and CEO of Lots To Live For, Inc.
If you are reading this article you might be uncomfortable, or you might know someone who is uncomfortable, due to burns or itching from cancer radiation therapy. Are you seeking relief? There are many products that can help and this article will highlight a few of them.
What is a Radiation Burn?
A radiation burn, and also radiation dermatitis, are common side effects of radiation therapy. It is condition in which the skin of the treated area becomes red and irritated and it occurs to some degree in most patients who undergo radiation therapy. Radiation kills not only cancer cells, but also some of the healthy cells. Typical symptoms of radiation burns and radiation dermatitis include dryness, redness, itching, swelling, and possibly a rash. The skin may begin to peel and/or itch, and it can be very uncomfortable.
In severe radiation burn cases, the radiotherapy treatment must be discontinued until the skin heals. However, discontinuing therapy can compromise treatment. It is wise to familiarize yourself with ways to reduce and prevent burning so that treatment can progress as scheduled.
Tips for Patients Receiving Radiation Therapy
Here are a few simple tips for skin care during radiation treatment. Please consult your oncology team for more thorough medical advice and recommendations.
- Do not expose the area receiving radiation to direct sunlight during treatment. Many people do not realize that they should also avoid sunlight to irradiated skin for several years after treatment. Please confirm the length of time your doctor or nurse would like you to avoid direct sunlight to the treated area.
- Only use products that are as gentle and as natural as possible for cleansing.
- Use warm water, avoid hot water.
- Try to keep the skin as soft and supple as possible to prevent itching and peeling. Use moisturizers with no harsh ingredients.
- Only use covers, wraps and bandages with no adhesives because adhesives can pull and tear already thin and damaged skin.
- Do not remove any markings put on your skin by your radiation oncology team because they guide placement for the oncology technician.
- Do not put any creams or oils on your skin immediately before your radiation treatments.
- Wear loose fitting cotton clothing around the area where you are receiving treatment. If you are receiving radiation to the breast area you might want to avoid wearing a bra. If this is not possible, avoid bras with underwires. (See below about Breast ComfortSling®)
- Soft cotton sheets may help you feel more comfortable at night and help you sleep better.
- Pat yourself dry with a towel instead of rubbing your skin.
Even if you take the precautions above, you might still develop redness, tenderness, and radiation burns. Luckily, there are a number of excellent products that are soothing and helpful. Many of them were developed by individuals who battled cancer themselves. They have walked in your shoes. All of these products are more fully described on the Lots To Live For, Inc. website.
Radiation Lotions and Radiation Creams
RĀDX Radiation Therapy is made with a freshly ground, organic aloe base and lidocaine and several other ingredients that are beneficial to the skin. RĀDX Radiation Therapy numbs pain (2% lidocaine), helps heal burning, irritation, redness and general skin breakdown, replenishes moisture and contributes to the skin’s regeneration process.
Radiation Rescue® Pain Relieving Gel is a silky-smooth hydrogel product that helps to prevent or reduce the skin-related side effects of radiation therapy, including burning, itching, peeling, blistering, swelling and redness.
MPM Regencare HA Gel was developed the temporary relief of pain and itching associated with minor burns, radiation burns, sunburn, minor cuts, scrapes, or minor skin irritations. It helps to reduce pain because it contains 2% lidocaine.
Cool Magic Hydrogel Sheets, Skin Cooler Rolls, and Cooler Pads
You should not use heating pads or ice packs directly on the area receiving radiation. Hydrogel sheets, and cooler products can be refrigerated and placed on the skin – they soothe and cool the burned area. Check with your oncology team before use because they may not be recommended for very bad burns.
Cool Magic Hydrogel Sheets are mentioned in many cancer blogs for their effectiveness. They cool live nerve endings due to their 90% water-10% polyethylene formulation. They provide instant cooling to burns, abrasions, skin tears, radiation reactions and sensitive wounds, effectively reducing pain.
Skin Cooler Rolls are similar to the Cool Magic gel sheets. The natural properties of water and aloe vera combine to help soothe any compromised area and promote a moist, healing environment for healthy skin. Cut to size and apply. They do not stick to the wounded area.
Skin Cooler Pads are reuseable, and should be stored in the refrigerator after each use. After use, rinse the product with cool water and storing in a sealed bag or container in the refrigerator. They do not mold as easily to the skin as either the Cool Magic Hydrogel Sheets or the Skin Cooler Rolls.
MPM Regenecare HA Spray is a topical anesthetic hydrogel spray with 2% lidocaine to reduce pain. Spray on the burned area for relief.
CV Skinlabs Rescue & Relief Spray is a refreshing, milky emulsion that provides deep, hydrating moisture while calming and soothing flushed, sensitive skin. A multitasking formula, it brings instant, cooling relief to itching, burning, irritated, and inflamed skin caused by sun exposure, rosacea, eczema, rashes, minor burns, and radiation treatments. Rapid relief for itchy radiation rash and radiation dermatitis.
BreastComfort Slings® and insert pads are designed to bring relief to painful and uncomfortable skin under the breast. The cushions prevent chafing, wick away perspiration and help prevent bacterial growth. Large-breasted women undergoing radiation therapy on the underside of their breasts may find their skin developing painful, sore and even weepy lesions in the skin folds beneath their breasts. Women have found that wearing a BreastComfort Sling from the onset of radiation therapy, even before any side effects have begun to appear, is the most effective way to minimize uncomfortable side effects to the skin.
Quality of Life
Dermatologic issues and related discomfort can significantly affect a patient’s quality of life. Quality of life issues are important because they affect a patients ability to complete daily tasks and on a broader scale, affect overall emotional health and wellbeing during treatment. Sometimes the side effects of treatment become so severe that treatment must be discontinued until the skin heals. Unfortunately, interruption can compromise treatment.
As the saying goes: “To be forewarned is to be forearmed”. We hope this article gives you the tools you need to complete your radiation series as scheduled and without discomfort.
About the author:
Margot Malin is the Founder and CEO of Lots To Live For, Inc. After receiving her MBA from The Wharton School, she joined a major New York City investment management firm as a managing director and equity portfolio manager. She enjoyed analyzing companies and industries, investing, and earning competitive returns for her clients for almost twenty years. The formation of Lots To Live For, Inc, in tribute to her mother and grandmother, who both fought courageous battles with cancer, allows her to give back to people in need by helping them through a difficult time in their lives.