Skin care during radiotherapy

A number of things can make skin reactions due to radiotherapy worse. These include:

  • having chemotherapy at the same time as radiotherapy
  • being overweight
  • other health problems, such as diabetes
  • having sun-damaged skin
  • smoking

Skin reactions caused by radiotherapy can be reduced by washing with a mild soap or cleanser and using a light moisturising cream. Radiotherapy staff can recommend which products to use. Women with secondary breast cancer who are having radiotherapy to the head should use gentle hair care products.

Other suggestions, based on the experience of women having radiotherapy for breast cancer, and on doctors’ and nurses’ observations include:

  • wear sun protective clothes or use sunscreen over the treated area when in the sun
  • avoid irritants – protect the skin in the treated area from damage by abrasion (for example, shaving with a wet razor), chemicals (for example, perfumes, deodorants, hair dyes) and temperature extremes during radiotherapy
  • keep skin folds dry.

As long as the skin is not broken, it should be OK to exercise, including swimming in either the sea or chlorinated pools, without making the skin reaction worse.

When any symptoms have settled down it’s OK to go back to a normal skin care routine. However, it’s suggested that women always protect the treated area from exposure to the sun.