Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer
What Side Effects Can I Expect?
Radiation passes through your skin. It can become red, swollen, warm, and sensitive -- as if you had a sunburn. It may peel or become moist and tender. Depending on the dose, you may lose hair or sweat less where you've been treated with radiation.
These skin reactions are common and temporary -- they will usually go away gradually in four to six weeks after your last treatment. If you see skin changes outside the treated area, tell your doctor or primary nurse.
Long-term side effects can last up to a year or longer after treatment. They may include a slight darkening of the skin, enlarged pores on the breast, more or less sensitive skin, a thickening of breast tissue or skin, and a change in the size of the breast.
How Can I Reduce Skin Reactions?
- Gently cleanse the treated area using lukewarm water and a mild soap such as Ivory, Dove, Neutrogena, Basis, or Aveeno Oatmeal Soap. Do not rub your skin. Pat your skin dry with a soft towel or use a hair dryer on a cool setting.
- Do not scratch or rub the treated area.
- Do not apply any ointment, cream, lotion, or powder to the treated area unless your doctor or nurse has prescribed it.
- Do not apply cosmetics, shaving lotions, perfumes, or deodorants on the treated area.
- Use only an electric razor if you need to shave within the treated area.
- Do not wear tight-fitting clothing or harsh fabrics like wool or corduroy. Instead, choose clothes made from natural fibers like cotton.
- Do not apply medical tape or bandages on the treated area.
- Avoid extreme heat or cold where you've had radiation. Don't use an electric heating pad, hot water bottle, or ice pack.
- Avoid direct sunlight, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., even after your course of treatment has been completed. It can intensify skin reactions and lead to severe sunburn. Choose a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. Wearing protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat, are also recommended.
Will Radiation Make Me Tired?
Everyone has a different level of energy, so radiation affects each person differently. Many people feel fatigued after several weeks of treatment. Most often, this is a mild feeling of being tired. But some people feel more fatigued and need to change their daily routine.
If your doctor thinks you should limit your activities, he or she will discuss it with you.
To preserve your energy during radiation treatments:
- Get enough rest.
- Eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet.
- Pace your activities and plan frequent rest periods.