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    Managing Side Effects of Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

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    Common early side effects of radiation therapy in breast cancer patients are skin irritation and fatigue. Most radiation therapy treatments last anywhere from one to six weeks. As you progress through treatment, the skin on the breast or chest that’s repeatedly exposed to radiation usually starts to feel dry and irritated. It may sometimes even peel.

    The skin may also:

    • Become pinker or darker over time
    • Feel tender, dry, itchy, and sore
    • Peel or flake as treatment progresses
    • Blister or become moist and weepy

    The skin reaction from radiation therapy for breast cancer is called radiation dermatitis.

    skin ref 2 copy.webp__PID:87a30683-09a9-401e-bde0-d55b31fddfb5
    Chemo Skin Care Comfort Kit For Chemo and Radiation Patients - Dermavitality
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    Kit de confort para el cuidado de la piel con quimioterapia para pacientes con quimioterapia y radiación

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    Dermavitality Skin Care Comfort Kit For Chemotherapy Patients
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    Oncology Lotion for Chemotherapy and Radiation Patients Skin Support Bundle - Dermavitality
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    Paquete de soporte para la piel de loción oncológica para pacientes con quimioterapia y radiación

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    Dermavitality Soothing Scalp Hair Growth Spray 4 ounces
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    Fatigue During Breast Radiation Therapy

    Fatigue During Breast Radiation Therapy

    Undergoing radiation therapy will likely affect you and your family's day-to-day life. Caring for yourself during radiation therapy is important. You may feel tired and have less energy during radiation therapy.

    Tips for managing fatigue during breast cancer radiation:

    • Get plenty of rest.
    • Try to ensure enough sleep at night. Staying active may help you sleep better. Don't hesitate to ask for help when needed, and try to prioritize important tasks. Plan a time to rest during the day; taking a short nap, reading, or listening to music can help boost your energy levels.
    • Take regular breaks.
    • Plan activities for the time of day when you tend to feel more energetic.
    • Ask family and friends for help as needed with shopping, housework, and driving.
    • Consider taking a few weeks off work during or after treatment, reducing your hours, or working from home. Discuss your situation with your employer.
    • Regular exercise, such as walking, can boost your energy levels and reduce fatigue. Ask your treatment team about suitable exercise options.
    • Limit caffeinated drinks, such as cola, coffee, and tea. While caffeine may provide a temporary energy boost, it can also cause jitteriness, irritability, insomnia, and dehydration.
    • Avoid drinking alcohol, and if you smoke, try to quit.
    • Maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet, and don't skip meals.

    Skin Changes During Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

    Skin Changes During Radiation Therapy

    Radiation dermatitis, or radiodermatitis, is a common skin rash that can occur during radiation therapy. Symptoms may include darkening of the skin ("hyperpigmentation"), burning, itching, swelling, skin thinning, and peeling. If you experience these symptoms, your doctor may recommend moisturizers, topical steroids, or other treatments. Skin side effects can sometimes last 3-4 weeks after the final radiation treatment. If any skin side effects persist beyond that, they usually resolve within about 3 months.

    Prevention and Management of Radiation Dermatitis for Breast Cancer Patients:

    • Protect the skin in the treatment area from sun and cold.
    • Do not use hot packs, cold packs, or heating pads on the treatment area.
    • Avoid baths, hot tubs, or swimming in lakes or pools if your skin is not intact.
    • Wear soft, loose, comfortable cotton clothing. Avoid underwire bras during the remainder of treatment.
    • Do not rub or scratch the skin in the treatment area. Avoid shaving the armpit with a straight razor; you may use an electric razor or opt not to shave if preferred.
    • Follow standard washing and skin care routines: Shower before each treatment with a mild, unscented soap. Wash the affected area and gently remove any skin product and deodorant during the shower. Do not scrub. Dry the treatment area with a clean, soft towel, gently patting dry.
    • Apply a water-based cream with Calendula oil and skin moisturizers, such as Dermavitality Radiation Burn Cream and Radiation Relief Spray, to moisturize the skin 3-4 times per day. Use the cream as needed to alleviate skin irritation during radiation therapy.
    • You may use non-metallic or metallic deodorants/antiperspirants for comfort; the choice is based on your preference.

    Coping with Side Effects of Radiation for Breast Cancer

    Coping with Side Effects of Radiation

    The side effects of radiation for breast cancer are usually mild and temporary. They can often be managed with lifestyle modifications, medications, and supportive care measures. Most patients experience relief from their symptoms within a few weeks of completing treatment.

    It's important to discuss any observed side effects during or after radiation treatments with your healthcare team. They can help you manage any side effects that arise during and after treatment.

    • Establish healthy sleep habits: Sufficient sleep and rest are critical for healing after radiation treatments.
    • Maintain a healthy diet: Eating balanced, nutrient-dense meals can help maintain energy levels during treatment.
    • Protect your skin: Use sunscreen, wear protective clothing, and avoid direct sunlight to reduce the risk of skin irritation.
    • Stay active: Gentle exercise, such as walking or yoga, can help boost energy levels during treatment.
    • Seek support: Talking with family and friends or joining a cancer support group may help cope with any emotional stress associated with radiation therapy. A counselor, coach, or therapist can also provide valuable support.

    No matter what side effects you may experience, remember that your healthcare team is there to guide you through the process. They can offer tips and advice for managing symptoms or connect you with additional resources to support your recovery.

    References:
    Sherman, D. W., & Walsh, S. M. (2021). Promoting Comfort: A Clinician Guide and Evidence-Based Skin Care Plan in the Prevention and Management of Radiation Dermatitis for Patients with Breast Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9408725/

    Pommier, P., Gomez, F., Sunyach, M. P., D’Hombres, A., Carrie, C., & Montbarbon, X. (2004). Phase III randomized trial of Calendula officinalis compared with trolamine for the prevention of acute dermatitis during irradiation for breast cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 22, 1447–1453. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

    Schnur, J. B., Love, B., Scheckner, B. L., et al. (2011). A systematic review of patient-rated measures of radiodermatitis in breast cancer radiotherapy. American Journal of Clinical Oncology, 34(5), 529–536.[PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]