Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer
What Are the Side Effects of Radiation Treatment?
During treatment, radiation must pass through your skin. You may notice some skin changes in the area exposed to radiation. Your skin may become red, swollen, warm, and sensitive -- as if you had a sunburn. It may peel or become moist and tender. Depending on the dose of radiation you receive, you may notice a loss of hair or decreased perspiration within the treated area.
These skin reactions are common and temporary -- they will usually subside gradually within four to six weeks of completing treatment. If skin changes appear outside the treated area, inform your doctor or primary nurse.
Long-term side effects, which can last up to a year or longer after treatment, may include a slight darkening of the skin, enlarged pores on the breast, increased or decreased sensitivity of the skin, a thickening of breast tissue or skin, and a change in the size of the breast.
How Can I Reduce Skin Reactions From Radiation?
To reduce skin reactions that occur as a result of radiation treatment:
- 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 radiation oncologist 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 clothes made from harsh fabrics such as wool or corduroy -- these fabrics can irritate the skin. Instead, choose clothes made from natural fibers such as cotton.
- Do not apply medical tape or bandages to the treated area.
- Do not expose the treated area to extreme heat or cold. Avoid using an electric heating pad, hot water bottle, or ice pack.
- Do not expose the treated area to direct sunlight -- sun exposure may intensify your skin reaction and lead to severe sunburn. Choose a sunblock/sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. Protect yourself from direct sunlight even after your course of treatment has been completed.
Will Radiation Treatment Make Me Tired?
Everyone has a different level of energy, so radiation treatment will affect each patient differently. Patients frequently experience fatigue after several weeks of treatment. For most patients, this fatigue is mild. However, a loss of energy may require other patients to change their daily routine.
If your doctor thinks it may be necessary for you to limit your activity, he or she will discuss it with you.
To minimize fatigue while you are receiving radiation treatment:
- Be sure to get enough rest.
- Eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet.
- Pace your activities and plan frequent rest periods.