Will radiation burn me?

Author: Courtney Misher, MPH, BS RT(T)
Last Reviewed: March 19, 2021

Question:

Will radiation burn me?

Answer:

The skin reaction that you get from radiation therapy is related to the dose you are getting and the location of the target inside the body. Generally, the more superficial (closer to the surface) the target is, the more likely there is to be a skin reaction. The deeper the target is in the body the less likely there is to be a skin reaction.

Breast cancers and head & neck cancers typically have targets that are close to the skin surface, so they are more likely to have skin reactions. Prostate cancer, which is deeper in the body, is less likely to have skin reactions.

Skin reactions can vary in severity. An example of a mild skin reaction is a red rash (called erythema) and itchy, peeling, or flaking skin (called dry desquamation). More severe skin reactions usually cause pain with blisters and wet, peeling of the skin (called moist desquamation).

In general, these skin reactions will resolve within a few weeks after radiation therapy treatments are complete. There are creams and ointments that can help alleviate the symptoms and promote quicker healing. Speak to your provider about skincare recommendations.

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