How can I protect my skin during and after radiation therapy?

Last Modified: November 1, 2001

Dear OncoLink "Ask the Experts,"
How can I protect my skin during and after radiation therapy?

Each time radiation therapy is delivered, small amounts are absorbed by the skin over the area being treated. Over time, redness and irritation similar to a sunburn may occur. Because of this, it is necessary for all patients receiving radiation therapy to take special measures to protect their skin from any additional damage due to exposure to the sun. Although all exposed skin is at risk, of greatest concern is any skin in the area being treated.

Here are some specific steps for you to take to help prevent or minimize damage to your skin caused by exposure to the sun:

  • Select a sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. In addition, purchase the type that does not come off in the water or while sweating. Although these may be slightly more expensive, they offer better protection.

  • Always wear sunscreen on all exposed parts whenever you are going to be out of doors for any period of time, not just when you go to the beach or swimming pool. You must wear sunscreen at all times throughout the year, not just in the summer.

  • Re-apply sunscreen throughout the day, especially during the summer.

  • Even when wearing sunscreen, do not sit in direct sunlight. Wear protective clothes, such as hats, long sleeved shirts, blouses or jackets, and lightweight pants.

  • Use a large umbrella for outdoor activities.

  • Whenever possible, avoid being in the sun between the hours of 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM when the sun's rays are most intense.

  • When riding in the car, avoid opening the window where you are sitting. A closed window will block out most of the sun's rays on your arm. You may open the others windows if needed to cool the car.
Even after treatment is completed, it will be necessary for you to follow these important steps for a period of time. This will be reviewed with you by your radiation oncologist or nurse during your follow-up visits. In certain cases, depending on the amount of radiation received, the size and location of the area treated and the amount of damage, if any, to the skin, you may be instructed to follow these precautions for an extended period of time.

If you have any questions or need additional information about protecting your skin during and after radiation therapy, talk to your nurse or doctor.