Previously Irradiated Skin

Last Modified: July 4, 2009

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Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"
Thirty years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and treated with cobalt-based radiation therapy and chemotherapy. A year ago, I was diagnosed with DCIS and had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. The reconstruction has been difficult and required a second flap procedure due to the previously irradiated skin.

The flap looks good, but I am still having trouble with the irradiated skin. I am using a lot of aloe, vitamin E, and cortisone cream. The redness and pain do not seem to be improving. Do you have any suggestions as to what else I might try to improve the skin and help with the pain?


Tammi Fisher, RN, OCN Staff Nurse in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

One of our physicians recommends Calendula cream, which is derived from Marigolds and is shown to be effective for skin repair. The most commonly recommended brand is Wieda, and it is sold at Whole Foods stores and perhaps some nutrition centers as well. For pain relief, you could try mixing lidocaine gel with a lotion (Aquaphor is what we use) in a 50/50 concentration and apply this to the area. The lidocaine will require a prescription, but may be helpful in relieving the pain. Breast massage may help to increase blood flow back to the area, which could also help with healing. Please check with your physician to make sure these treatments will not interfere with any other therapy you are receiving.

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