Radiation therapy has revolutionized the treatment of cancer. Used in a primary or adjuvant fashion, radiation energy is delivered in a precise and accurate way, killing off cancer cells and malignant tissues. Radiation might be recommended for patients with a variety of cancers, including breast, prostate, skin cancer and others. And while these treatments are carefully planned, side effects can occur.
Radiation Dermatitis describes specific changes on the skin that can occur after radiation therapy for cancer. It occurs when the skin is exposed to a heavy concentration of radiation, which compromises the integrity of the skin’s epidermis. Although not a common side effect, this can lead to a number of skin changes. These issues can range from reddening of the exposed area to skin breakdown and even ulceration.
“A grading system has actually been developed to help classify the severity of this type of reaction,” says Dr. Adam Mamelak, a board-certified Dermatologist and skin cancer specialist in Austin, Texas. The grading system is as follows:
Grade 1 – A slight reddening or peeling of the skin.
Grade 2 – A slightly greater amount of reddening that can be considered patchy. Also, greater peeling of the skin in skin folds and slight swelling.
Grade 3 – Larger areas of reddening that can be almost seen as sores, peeling, and severe swelling.
Grade 4 – Ulcers in the skin
There are a few things that can help with these situations, including the use of moisturizing creams or emollients to minimize the effects of the Radiation Dermatitis. “If the wounds are severe enough, we would consider a prescription ointment to reduce the inflammation in the skin,” states Dr. Mamelak. An important thing to keep in mind is that there can also be other factors that contribute to skin changes after radiation therapy. “It is important to rule out other factors that can be involved with Radiation Dermatitis including medications, illnesses, infections or other forms of eczema or dermatitis that has been exacerbated by the radiation,” Dr. Mamelak adds.
When dealing with these wounds, it is important that you follow your doctors directions precisely. “It is usually a good idea to use a mild soap to wash, and then lightly towel dry the area so as to not irritate skin any further,” he explains. “It is also advised that you stay out of the sun as much as possible, and avoid any irritating skin care products with heavy perfumes or fragrances, and as much as possible, try not to scratch.”
If you are having a skin reaction after radiation or another cancer treatment, the physicians at Sanova Dermatology can help. Call us today and schedule an appointment.