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1. What is radiation?

Radiation is a treatment used to kill cancer cells by damaging their DNA. Radiation therapy uses high- energy particles or waves to destroy or damage cancer cells.  It is one of the most common forms of treatment and is administered locally to a particular area, unlike chemotherapy, which affects the whole body.  It is used for cancers such as head and neck, stomach, breast, pelvic, and lung cancers.

2. What are the common side effects of radiation?

The most common side effects associated with radiation therapy are skin changes, fatigue, and loss of appetite.

3. How does radiation therapy affect your skin?

During radiation, skin in the treatment area may become red, blistered, irritated, sunburned, and swollen. After a few weeks of radiation, it may cause your skin to become dry, itchy, and scab.

4. What can I do to improve my skin changes?

  • Two weeks prior to beginning your radiation treatment apply aloe gel to the skin two times daily to condition and hydrate the area in preparation for treatment.  
  • Use a hydrating and nourishing skin care regiment designed for sensitive skin.
  • Use lukewarm water and mild sensitive cleansers to wash the treated area.
  • Avoid sunlight for at least 1 year after treatment and always wear protective clothing and a chemical free UVA/UVB protection, over the treated area. View our sunscreen product here.
  • Be mindful about the types of skin care products, deodorants, creams, and lotions that you may use on your skin.  They may contain harsh chemicals that are not good for the treated area. 
  • Avoid soaps that may be drying, body scrubs and exfoliators as well as loofa cloths and body brushes.

5. What can I do for long-term care following radiation therapy?

Your skin in the treatment area will remain sensitive and dry after your course of radiation therapy, so it still needs special care.  Remember to always protect your skin from extreme heat or cold, paying special attention to the exposures to the sun.  Always use a sun block with a SPF of 15 or higher.  It is also important to avoid injuries to your skin that may be caused by chemicals in cleaning solutions or solvents, cuts, and scratches or tight fitting clothes.

6. Are there any additional skin care tips that will help me before, during, and after therapy?

  • Discontinue use of anti -prespirant deodorants containing aluminum.
  • Keep skin folds dry.
  • Avoids Band-Aids, tape, or medical patches.
  • Avoid perfumes or any types of fragrances.
  • Avoid heating pads, ice packs, sunlamps, whirlpools, and the sun.

7. What are the signs of fatigue?

  • You feel weary or exhausted. It may be physical, emotional, and/or mental exhaustion.
  • Your body, especially your arms and legs, may feel very heavy.
  • You have less desire to do normal activities like eating or shopping.
  • You may find it hard to concentrate or think clearly.

8. How do other people cope with cancer treatment?

The cause of cancer-treatment related fatigue is not fully known. Problems like low blood count, sleep disruption, stress, and not eating enough, along with other factors, may contribute to fatigue.

  • Plan your day so that you have time to rest.
  • Take short naps or breaks rather than one, long rest period.
  • Eat as well as you can, and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Take short walks or do light exercise if possible.  You may find this helps with fatigue.
  • Try activities that are less strenuous, like listening to music or reading.
  • Become comfortable having others do something that you usually do.
  • See what helps you feel less tired, and make those activities a priority for you.
  • Let your body be your guide.

9. When is rest not the best treatment for cancer-treatment related fatigue?

You may be advised to “take it easy” and “get plenty of rest”. Sometimes staying in bed over a long period of time can slow your body down and cause you to feel even more tired.

10. What can family or significant others do to help you with cancer treatment related fatigue?

Do not push yourself to do more than you can do.  Ask your family member or friends to help you with tasks you find difficult or taxing, like mowing the lawn or grocery shopping.  It may be difficult for family members to understand if rest does not make your fatigue go away. Explaining that the fatigue you feel is different from the fatigue you had before treatment may help them understand.