Radiation Therapy Burns

Radiation Therapy Burns

What Is A Radiation Therapy Burn?

On exposure to radiation to the skin during therapy, it tends to peel off at a much faster rate than that of which it can grow. The peeling off leads to the formation of wounds. Despite the scars looking and feeling like burns, they only happen to be sores. Doctors refer to the sores as radiation therapy burns. Radiation therapy burns are the primary external side effects of radiation therapy. 

What Is Radiation Therapy?

Radiation therapy is also known as radiotherapy. It is a type of cancer treatment where beams of intense energy kill the cancer cells. X-rays are, at most times, the preferred types of rays used in radiation therapy. Each radiotherapy session lasts for about 15 minutes. In the whole therapy process, despite hearing clicking or buzzing sounds and a smell produced by the machine, the radiation does not hurt, burn or sting as it enters the skin.

What Are the Circumstances for Having Radiation Therapy? 

Specialists use radiation therapy in the treatment and ease of cancer and its symptoms. Cancer patients are the most likely to contract radiation therapy burnsdue to radiotherapy being a part of their treatment plan. The exposure of radiation to therapy occurs in different circumstances. They include:

  • Used as the primary treatment for cancer or together with other cancer treatment methods.
  • To shrink the cancerous tumors before surgery, known as neoadjuvant therapy.
  • After surgery to prevent any remaining cancer cells from growing, known as adjuvant therapy.

Other Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

Besides the radiation burns that occur as the main effect of radiotherapy, other products may result from the radiation depending on the body’s part exposed to the radiation, which may vary from one person to another. They include:

  • Fatigue is the physical, mental, and emotional feeling of tiredness. It is as a result of the radiation destroying both cancer cells and even healthy cells. With the increase in radiotherapy visits, Fatigue tends to grow more intense. It is a result of stress development from the frequent hospital visits. If the fatigue levels are unbearable, be sure to inform the cancer care team responsible for further specialized assistance.
  • Hair thinning or loss tends to occur when direct radiation exposure to the head occurs. At most times, people tend to start losing hair, thinning the hair, or even the hair changing in texture. In other instances where the hair remains, then the scalp tends to be tender. If the above occurs, one may wear a hat, scarf, or wig to protect the head when in the sun. Radiation to the head may also result in dryness of the mouth, stiffness of the neck, sores in the mouth, and even tooth decay.
  • Although rare in radiotherapy, some patients tend to have low blood count due to the radiation killing some useful cells. Postponing treatment by a week or allowing the blood count to return to normal might treat the condition.
  • Short-term effects such as headaches, hair loss, hearing loss, trouble with memory and speech, and even seizures may occur when there is radiation to the brain. It mainly happens due to the swelling of the brain. The intake of prescribed medicines may prevent this. Although not common, another tumor may appear in the area exposed to the radiation.
  • Radiation to the chest area may affect the heart or lungs, causing heart complications or even radiation pneumonia. It may also cause breast soreness or breast swelling due to fluid build-up, known as lymphedema for ladies. It is advised for those receiving radiotherapy in the chest area to avoid wearing a bra whenever possible. If a bra is worn, patients should consider wearing a soft cotton bra with no underwires.
  • For one receiving radiation to the abdomen area, a patient may experience side effects such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea.
  • Therapy radiation to the pelvis area may cause bladder problems, fertility problems and may subsequently affect even one’s sex life.

How to Treat Radiation Therapy Burns

Radiation therapy burns, also known as Radiation Dermatitis, can be treated using prescribed anti-fungal creams or powders. A patient experiences mild irritation, so that the patient may apply some specified aloe vera products to their skin. Some other ways on how to take care of the skin after radiotherapy include:

  • Always keep the skin moisturized and lubricated to prevent it from cracking and itching.
  •  Avoid wearing stiff, elastic, rough-textured, or even tight clothes, especially on the treated area. Instead, the patient should wear clothes made from smooth and soft fabrics.
  •  Scrubbing, scratching, or rubbing the treated skin should be avoided.
  •  The patient should not apply hot water or ice packs on the treated area, which may hurt the skin. Always use lukewarm running water and mild soap to wash the treated area unless advised otherwise. Always be careful not to rub away the marks needed for radiation therapy until its completion. 
  •  Pat dry the washed area with the use of a soft and clean towel.
  •  Always protect the treated area from direct sunlight. When one is allowed to use sunscreen by their respective cancer care teams, then using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) is advised for at least 30 days. Most specialists recommended the continued use of sunscreen for protecting the skin even after the radiation therapy comes to an end. Always confirm with the respective specialists before applying anything on the skin in the treatment area. It also includes consultation before shaving the treated area.

Alternatives to Radiotherapy

 In some instances where radiation therapy is not the best cancer treatment method for a patient, the patient should consider other cancer treatment methods. Cancer treatment usually varies, with factors such as the stage and type of cancer one is suffering. Some of the alternatives include:

  • Surgery- is a medical procedure in which a surgeon removes most solid cancerous tumors from the body. It can at times be used together with radiotherapy for more effective results. Before the spread of cancer to other parts of the body in the early stages of cancer, specialists recommend surgery as a cancer treatment method to their patients. It can be an option for most types of cancers except for those who have blood cancer.
  • Chemotherapy- is the type of treatment where drugs are administered to the patient to kill the cancer cells in their body. Like any other cancer treatment method, chemotherapy can be administered at times to patients alongside radiation therapy.
  • Immunotherapy- is the use of medications to boost the patient’s immune system to fight cancer. Although a more recent treatment method, it is discovered to treat even the most advanced and hard-to-treat cancers effectively.
  • Hormone therapy- is the cancer treatment type where the hormones that use hormones to grow are made deficient. It, in turn, slows down or even stops the growth of the cancerous cells.
  • Targeted therapy- is also known as precision medicine. It is the type of treatment where Oncologists tailor medication for each patient and cancer individually. Here, the drugs used precisely identify and attack the particular kind of cancer cells targeted by the medication. It can be used as a treatment method either by itself or, in other instances, used together with other cancer treatment forms such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgery.
  • Stem Cell Transplant- is a procedure that restores the blood-forming stem cells in a cancer patient whose cells got destroyed by very high exposure to either chemotherapy or radiotherapy. In turn, this process leads to a gradual increase in the number of useful cells in the body.
John Norwood
John Norwood is best known as a technology journalist, currently at Ziddu where he focuses on tech startups, companies, and products.