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What are the side effects of radiation therapy on skin?

Dr. Ellen Marmur, MD
Dermatology
During radiation, almost every patient can expect some kind of rash within a few days or weeks after beginning treatment. Since radiation is localized, the side effects are usually confined to the "field of radiation." Acute reactions make the skin red and inflamed. Sometimes it can appear sunburned or tan (inflammatory hyperpigmentation), or it can become a blistering rash. You can lose hair in the area, or skin can become scaly and dry. Other side effects may be dry mouth and lips, sore gums and inflammation of the mucous membranes. Acute radiation dermatitis has a direct relationship to the dose of radiation a patient is receiving. It may be necessary to reduce that amount, so it's vital to inform the radiation oncologist of any skin symptoms (even something mild, like redness).

Chronic, long-term effects of radiation can appear even six months after treatment. A patient may notice thickened, scar-like skin in the area, which can be extremely uncomfortable and difficult to treat. As with acute chemotherapy and radiation rashes, a dermatologist will often prescribe topical steroids to treat these side effects.
Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin

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Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin

What if a leading dermatologist just happened to be your best friend and you could ask her anything? DR. ELLEN MARMUR, a world-renowned New York City dermatologist, answers all your questions with...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.