March, 2013 by WellSkin | Posted under: Articles
What is radiation dermatitis?
Radiation dermatitis is damage to the skin, as a result of exposure to radiation. Radiation therapy damages the epidermis by breaking down skin surface tissue and blood vessels, causing inflammation. The skin is thinned out, left fragile and vulnerable to increased chances of potential wounds, breakage, rash and/or infections. The skin may be painful to touch.
What are the symptoms of radiation dermatitis?
The severity of radiation dermatitis depends on the dosage and frequency of exposure to the treatment, as well as individual skin sensitivity. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), there are two types of radiation dermatitis, either acute or chronic, of which the symptoms may surface anywhere from 10 days up to 10 years post radiation.
In acute cases, skin inflammation may flare up, causing redness, irritation, blistering or itching resulting in tearing and bleeding of the skin.
The NCI rates the severity of skin burn from a grading scale of 1 to 4, ranging from faint, moderate, confluent to ulcer.
If radiation dermatitis becomes a chronic condition, then these symptoms may reoccur on a frequent basis in the form of acne, hyperpigmentation or skin patches. Chances of this condition developing are greater in areas where the skin naturally folds, as well as in patients who are obese or those lacking proper nutrition. Patients with chronic radiation dermatitis are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer due to a lack of natural skin protection.
How can patients treat and manage this condition?
It is important that the skin must be protected and covered from direct sunlight to avoid risk of sunburn and further injury. Protective clothing with natural fibers, and high broad spectrum UVA and UVB SPF should be applied to the area, once it has had a chance to heal and there are no open wounds.
Patients should also avoid alcohol-based perfumes, moisturizers and cleansers. Exfoliating agents and ingredients such as retinol, often found in anti-aging skincare, ought to be avoided as well.
Instead, patients can establish a mild skincare routine by washing the affected area with warm water using a non-irritating, gentle cleanser and patting dry with a clean towel. Applying an anti-inflammatory, gel based lotion, ointment or emulsion will help to reduce discomfort and the urge to scratch. Patients should consult with their physicians about specific skin concerns post radiation therapy to manage radiation dermatitis.