Radiation Dermatitis & Cancer


Radiation to healthy skin cells in the path of radiation leads to a complex pattern of direct tissue injury involving damage to cells of the epidermis and endothelial cells within the walls of blood vessels, and inflammatory cell recruitment.

Radiation dermatitis generally manifests within a few days to weeks after the start of radiation Tx. Its onset varies depending on the radiation dose intensity and the normal tissue sensitivity of individuals. It is confined to areas of skin that have been irradiated, and the skin changes are sharply demarcated.


What is the cause of radiation dermatitis in your client?

External beam radiation, an adjuvant treatment given to clients diagnosed with cancer is the cause. 

Determine any medications; contraindications and cautions before proceeding with any spa treatment.

Treatments that can be offered:

  • No treatments can be offered on the localised area affected by radiation, however, when skin care product is applied to the skin pre Tx, and left on during Tx or applied post radiation Tx, it needs to be applied thinly without applying any aggressive pressure to the area.
  • Post radiation Tx, a broad spectrum SPF 30 is recommended.

Historically, and still today, many people undergoing radiation therapy are advised by their healthcare team to AVOID using topical products prior to, and post radiation to avoid increasing the amount of radiation absorbed by the skin.  While this may be been used with older types of radiation equipment, the new equipment/treatments produce very targeted doses of radiation to skin cells, therefore limiting the amount of destruction to skin cells and other tissue in the path of radiation.

In 2018, a study established the following:

  1. It is still common for oncology healthcare professionals to recommend that their patient AVOID applying skin care products prior to their radiation Tx.
  2. It debunked the myth that applying topical skin care would increase the amount of radiation received, therefore causing more harm.....so, not true.

It is imperative we seek out any changes to the skin in clients with a history of radiation was given as secondary skin cancers (most commonly basal cell carcinoma) may also result from repeated exposure to radiation Tx.

DISCLAIMER: Work within the scope of your license/certification.

Portrait of Mórag Currin. About the Author

Mórag Currin is a highly sought-after esthetic educator with more than 27 years of spa industry experience and more than twelve years of training and training management experience. She travels around the globe with her training and expertise, helping to raise the bar in the spa industry and to open the door to all people, regardless of skin type or health condition. To learn more about this topic and many other skin challenges, diseases, and symptoms, check out Mórag’s book, Health Challenged Skin: The Estheticians’ Desk Reference.

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