Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy Can Mean Fewer Skin Issues

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A study found that women who received radiation therapy using a special technique known as intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) were 17% less likely to develop scaling or peeling skin in the area exposed to radiation compared to women who got radiation therapy using traditional techniques. The researchers also found that IMRT was much better at delivering radiation to the intended treatment area and avoiding healthy tissue compared to traditional radiation therapy delivery techniques.

Skin reactions are common side effects of radiation therapy to treat breast cancer. If you have fair skin, it may look as if you have a slowly developing sunburn, with the skin gradually changing color to pink or red. If you have dark skin, this redness can be harder to see. Along with a color change, some women also may have other skin changes, such as:

  • dryness
  • itching
  • burning
  • soreness
  • peeling -- the peeling can be dry (like a sunburn) or wet (like a blister)

Doctors have developed a number of new technologies and techniques to better target radiation therapy. These new techniques narrowly focus radiation on cancer cells and limit the exposure of healthy tissue (skin, heart, lungs) to radiation. Computers are used to precisely plan and deliver radiation therapy. IMRT uses a computer to precisely deliver multiple concentrated beams of radiation to a three-dimensional target area of breast tissue. This precision limits unnecessary exposure of skin and other healthy tissue to radiation that may have happened when radiation was delivered using older techniques. Other new technology gives your radiation oncologist more and safer choices of radiation energy sources.

Still, IMRT isn't for everyone. Other new radiation therapy techniques may be better options for many women. If radiation therapy is part of your breast cancer treatment plan, talk to your radiation oncologist about which radiation therapy techniques make sense for your unique situation. Together you and your doctor can decide on the approach that is best for you.

Visit the Breastcancer.org Radiation Therapy section to learn more about how radiation therapy works, how it's given, possible side effects, and how to manage any side effects you might have.

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