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Breast Cancer – Managing Skin Reactions to Radiation

By Dita Faulkner
 
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This article is the start of a three-part series of articles about managing the side effects of radiation. In total, seven areas in all will be discussed:

Skin problems
Armpit discomfort
Chest pain
Fatigue
Heart problems
Lowered white blood cell count
Lung problems

But today, we will start with skin problems that may be brought about due to radiation therapy. Even though many patients have very little difficulty with radiation treatment, everyone’s experience is different. It’s best for your medical team to act preventively and quickly to anticipate skin problems. Further, since these side effects will come on slowly, a timely response will curb the intensity of any discomfort. It is important to involve your medical team because if left untreated, there may be a risk of infection. You will notice after your radiation course stops that eventually, symptoms will improve.

As indicated by BreastCancer.org, listed below are reasons some areas of your body react more so than others:

The angle of the radiation beam is parallel to the skin there, so radiation skims the skin

This area may have been overexposed to the sun and therefore takes longer to heal

The arm rubs against the radiated skin, which is already irritated by sweat and hair

The bra rubs this area

The skin fold rubs against this area

Your complexion is fair and you’re susceptible to sunburn

You have large breasts

You received radiation after a mastectomy – doses will be high

You’ve had recent chemotherapy

What You Can Do

There will be a gradual change in the color around the treated skin area, usually going from flesh-toned to red. With darker-skinned African Americans, skin tone changes may not be noticed as readily but there will be soreness and/or dry skin present. Sometimes the dry skin may peel away in a dry and flaky manner. But other times, it may take on a wet and blistery type of appearance.

According to BreastCancer.org, the following are very good tips for preventing irritation before and after daily treatments:

Wear loose-fitting shirts, preferably cotton

Use warm rather than hot water while showering

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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