- Question from Shandy: What can radiation patients do for their skin to help guard against irritation or burning from radiation?
Lydia Komarnicky, M.D.
This probably varies from one radiation oncologist to another. Typically, we ask our patients not to use anything harsh on the skin during radiation treatments. Use only mild moisturizing soaps. Do not use harsh deodorants. Your radiation oncologist can tell you what kind of cream to use during a course of therapy.
For women who have very large breasts, they tend to get more treatment reaction, and keeping the folds underneath the breasts as dry as possible is important. We tell our patients to use cornstarch to keep that area nice and dry.
Marisa Weiss, M.D.
You can take cornstarch from your kitchen and pour it into a thin sock. Put a knot at the top and you have a ball of cornstarch that you can use to apply under the breast in the armpit. After putting the creams on, you can dust the surface just like flouring a pan after you've buttered it. This can make the skin surface smooth and cut down on friction.
In women with big breasts, it's good to avoid skin against skin under the breast. And for any woman, it's good to avoid skin against skin in the armpit area. Whenever you can, try to keep the arm away from the breast so it doesn't move through the armpit area. You want to avoid tight bras or ones with underwires that rub too much under the breast.
I tell patients that when they get home they should take off the bra and put fabric under the breast to avoid skin against skin. Keep a space between the breast and the area where it might rest on the top of your abdomen.
- Lydia Komarnicky, M.D. For some patients a hand-held fan can also be a great idea a couple times a day, especially if you have a large breast. Get the fan to get air moving underneath.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. You might have a hair dryer that you can put on "cool." This, too, can help keep air moving and can make you feel better.
- Lydia Komarnicky, M.D. I only use hydrocortisone cream when the skin gets quite red.
Marisa Weiss, M.D.
Each radiation oncologist has a different set of recommendations. I use a low-strength hydrocortisone cream a few weeks into treatment and then move up to a higher strength steroid cream towards the end of treatment, as needed.
Each week during treatment, your doctor will see you and look at your breast and skin carefully. That's a good opportunity to modify the skin care instructions based on your individual situation and how you're doing.
- Lydia Komarnicky, M.D. If you think that your skin is getting too red too quickly, don't wait for your weekly assessment with your doctor to point that out. Feel free to call him or her earlier if necessary, or point it out to your radiation therapists and they will call the doctor.
The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Radiation Therapy Updates featured Lydia T. Komarnicky, M.D. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answering your questions about advances in radiation therapy: the newest and best techniques, combining radiation therapy with other treatments, ways to manage, reduce or eliminate side effects, and more.
Editor's Note: This conference took place in March 2004.
The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.
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