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Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

How Should I Eat During a Course of Radiation?

Good nutrition is important to help you recover from the side effects of radiation. Eating well gives you energy for activities you enjoy and helps your body heal and fight off infection.

Most importantly, nutritious meals can give you a sense of well-being.

Since eating when you don't feel well can be hard, a dietitian can help you find ways to get the nutrients you need during treatment.

What Side Effects Can I Expect With External Beam Radiation?

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 4 to 6 weeks after your last treatment. If you see skin changes outside the treated area, tell your doctor or nurse.

Long-term side effects can last beyond a year 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.

A rare complication of radiation is developing a new cancer or tumor where the radiation is given. Talk to your doctor about this risk.

How Can I Lessen 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. Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat, too.

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