Written By Kevin Kerfoot / Reviewed By Ray Spotts
While radiation therapy plays an important role in treating cancer, it can also produce some uncomfortable or even painful side effects on the skin, such as itchiness, redness, blistering and peeling. Without taking steps to minimize these side effects, radiation therapy can greatly impact patients’ quality of life and threaten their ability to continue treatment.
Radiation therapy tips
Follow these tips to take care of your skin during radiation therapy:
Apply moisturizer every day as directed. Moisturizer can help your skin heal more quickly after treatment. Discuss moisturizer recommendations and the timing of application with your cancer care team, including your dermatologist.
Avoid contact with very hot or cold temperatures. While a hot tub, heating pad or ice pack may sound comforting, exposure to extreme temperatures can further irritate your treated skin. Worse, if you enter a hot tub that hasn’t been properly cleaned, you could develop a serious infection.
Avoid shaving the skin that received treatment. This could cause a painful rash or increase the risk of infection.
Choose “fragrance free” skin care products. Makeup and skin care products often contain fragrance, which can irritate your skin and cause a reaction. Unless a product says it is “fragrance free,” it’s likely to contain fragrance. Even products labeled “unscented” can contain fragrance, so make sure to check the ingredients before using.
Do not apply anything sticky to your treated skin. Medical tape, stick-on bandages, nicotine patches and other medical supplies with adhesive can irritate and damage skin with radiation. If you need to wear a patch for medical reasons, apply it to skin that has not been treated with radiation.
Protect your skin while doing chores. If you’re getting radiation treatments on your hands or lower arms, protect your skin with gloves while doing chores. For added protection, wear cotton liner gloves under rubber gloves.
Protect your treated skin from the sun. Radiation therapy can make your skin very sensitive to sunlight. When spending time outdoors, seek shade and cover your treated skin with sun-protective clothing.
You can identify sun-protective clothing by looking for an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) label, but any clothing that you hold up to a bright light and cannot see through offers sun protection. Make sure the clothing is loose-fitting, and protect your head and neck using a wide-brimmed hat.
If you need to use sunscreen to protect the treated area, make sure it is broad-spectrum and has an SPF of 30 or higher, and reapply it every two hours.
Wash the treated skin gently every day with warm water. Washing helps remove bacteria from your skin, which can cause an infection. Be very gentle when washing your skin in the area that has received radiation therapy.
Use your hands to gently splash water on the treated area, and do not use a washcloth, sponge or loofah. If you need to cleanse, use a gentle, low-pH cleanser, and do not scrub at any lines drawn on your skin.
Wear loose-fitting clothes. You can develop irritation if clothing rubs against skin that has been treated with radiation. Wear loose-fitting clothes to help prevent these side effects.
“During radiation therapy, the treated skin becomes very sensitive, which can cause painful rashes and delays in care,” says board-certified dermatologist Anisha Patel, MD, FAAD. “To reduce pain or discomfort from radiation therapy and increase your ability to continue treatment, it’s important to consult a board-certified dermatologist prior to the start of any cancer therapies and avoid doing things that can further irritate the treated skin, such as spending time outdoors without sun protection or using harsh skin care products.
“After radiation therapy, pay close attention to the skin that was treated, as radiation therapy can increase your risk of developing certain types of infections, as well as skin cancer. Some side effects can occur weeks, months or even years after your last radiation treatment even if you had no side effects during treatment. If you see redness, a rash, or any other changes on your skin, call your oncologist or dermatologist.”
Personalized Therapy for Melanoma
A recent study - published in Cancer Discovery and led by researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science - shows that a highly personalized approach could help the immune cells improve their ability to recognize the cancer and kill it.
With new immunotherapy treatments for melanoma, recovery rates have risen dramatically – in some cases to around 50 percent. But they could be much higher. Today’s immunotherapies involve either administering antibodies to unlock the natural immune T cells that recognize and kill cancer cells or else growing and reactivating these T cells outside the body and returning them in a “weaponized” form.
“But none of this will kill the cancer if the immune cells do not recognize the signposts that mark cancer cells as foreign,” says Professor Yardena Samuels of the Institute’s Department of Molecular Cell Biology.
Identifying the particular peptides that present themselves to the T cell can then help scientists develop personalized cancer vaccines based on neo-antigen profiles.
Uncovering Neo-Antigens In Melanoma
One of the problems in uncovering neo-antigens in cancers like melanoma, however, is that they are presented by a protein complex called HLA – a complex that can come in thousands of versions, even without the addition of cancerous mutations. The algorithms that are often used to search the cancer-cell genome for possible neo-antigens had predicted hundreds of possible candidates.
Samuels, Ph.D. student Shelly Kalaora and in Professor Arie Admon of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology bypassed the algorithm methods. They used a method developed to remove the peptides from the melanoma cells’ HLA complex and investigated their interactions with T cells.
“We discovered that tumors present many fewer neo-antigens than we expected,” Samuels said. “Our neo-antigen and corresponding T-cell-identification strategies were so robust, our neo-antigen-specific T cells killed 90 percent of their target melanoma cells both on plates and in mice. This suggests possible clinical applications for the near future.
“Although this research is experimental right now, the findings are highly relevant to clinical research, as groups around the world have already worked out the basics of developing therapeutic anti-cancer treatments based on neo-antigens. As almost all the neo-antigens detected in patients thus far are individual – and unique to the particular cancerous tissue – they constitute an ideal class of anti-cancer targets. This would be the ultimate personalized cancer therapy – a new drug is created for every patient.”
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Founder Ray Spotts has a passion for all things natural and has made a life study of nature as it relates to health and well-being. Ray became a forerunner bringing products to market that are extraordinarily effective and free from potentially harmful chemicals and additives. For this reason Ray formed Trusted Health Products, a company you can trust for clean, effective, and healthy products. Ray is an organic gardener, likes fishing, hiking, and teaching and mentoring people to start new businesses. You can get his book for free, “How To Succeed In Business Based On God’s Word,” at www.rayspotts.com.