If you’re undergoing radiation treatment and are concerned about radiation burns or scars, this article is a must-read.
Radiation therapy forms an important part of management of patients with cancer. It is often utilized to kill cancer cells that may remain after surgery. While treatment is fairly effective, it unfortunately has a number of side effects, which can include radiation burns and scars.
Radiation therapy, also called radiation treatment, is a form of treatment where high energy particles or waves, such as gamma rays, are projected onto the area of the body where cancer is present to destroy cancer cells. It is utilized in treatment of cancers such as breast cancer, lung cancer and head and neck cancer. It often follows surgery and chemotherapy, but may be given by itself.
Radiation therapy is always delivered at a particular intensity and energy level. Higher intensity and higher energy levels mean the radiation penetrates the body's tissues a lot deeper. The level of damage that is done depends on the type of radiation treatment that is used.
Unfortunately, radiation treatment has certain side effects, one of which is its effect on skin. Following radiation treatment, the skin may become swollen, red and blistered. This is called acute radiodermatitis.
Over time, if radiation exposure is continued, these blisters can burst and the skin can become dry and flaky. Pain can be a predominant symptom. Additional damage may occur to the skin which can take months to develop. The skin can become thicker, and may appear white or yellow and have dilated blood vessels on the surface. This is called chronic radiodermatitis.
Radiation burns do not just affect the skin. They may also be seen on the surface of the lungs and in the gastrointestinal tract as well. The changes appear very similar to radiodermatitis.
Radiation burns can be seen with high exposure to ultraviolet radiation, x-rays and radiotherapy. Procedures such as a fluoroscopy, which is used as a diagnostic tool, can cause radiation burns if the exposure to radiation is prolonged.
Radiation burns and scars are treated by keeping the area clean and dry. A dry bandage must be applied to keep the area covered. Patients are at a high risk of developing infections, so antibiotics may be required to prevent this. These can include topical creams and even intravenous antibiotics.
There are simple steps that can be adopted to ensure skin damage does not get any worse after radiation therapy. These can include wearing loose and soft clothing, avoiding rubbing of scratching the area, avoiding irritant solutions such as aftershaves and hair removal cream, and preventing exposure of the affected area to sunlight. Your doctor will provide you with all the advice and tips you should observe after radiation therapy.