Radiation therapy (or radiotherapy) and chemotherapy during cancer treatment are effective because they kill cancer cells. Unfortunately, surrounding normal cells are also damaged as part of the treatment process and many are left compromised long after therapy. But there are ways to reduce the collateral damage. Here’s a deeper look at what exactly happens to your skin, and some tips for better skin care during radiotherapy for breast cancer.
Radiotherapy is commonly used for the treatment of malignant tumors as primary or adjunct treatment. The ionizing radiation from the tumor therapy causes damage to other normal structures at the same time, depending on the radiation dosage used, the patient’s age and overall health. Most of the effects on the skin are predictable and, to some extent, expected.
Cells that are exposed to oxygen receive the most damage. This is due to the ionizing potential of the radiation energy causing free radicals in the presence of water, which then damages the DNA of cells to limit future replication. Epithelial surfaces, especially skin, have a predictable sequence of changes. The acute changes include redness and/or soreness with the potential of blistering or breaking down. Nearly all skin side effects will heal with time. The bigger problem lies in the permanent damage to sweat and oil glands in the skin that results in dryness and a rough skin texture.
The obvious side effect to these much-needed treatments is that they can leave skin dry, flaky and more sensitive to sun and wind. Here are some changes you might want to make in your skin care routine while going through treatment:
- Moisturize more frequently than you did before treatment.
- Use a rich moisturizer that has the ability to penetrate below the surface of the skin to restore the natural lipid barrier.
- Use a gentle cleanser that is free of fragrance and soap.
- Avoid the sun as much as possible.
- Drink at least 2 quarts of water per day.
- Avoid hot showers; use tepid water instead
If you have been through breast cancer treatment, what did you do to keep your skin from becoming dry and flaky?