How Long Does Radiation Therapy Typically Last
With breast cancer, radiation therapy usually begins about 3 to 4 weeks after breast-conserving therapy or a mastectomy, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
External beam radiation is typically given once a day, 5 days a week, for anywhere from 2 to 10 weeks on an outpatient basis. This means you can go home after the treatment.
Sometimes the schedule for external radiation can differ from the standard schedule. Some examples of this include the following:
- Accelerated fractionation. Treatment is given in larger daily or weekly doses, reducing the duration of the treatment.
- Hyperfractionation. Smaller doses of radiation are given more than once a day.
- Hypofractionation. Larger doses of radiation are given once daily to reduce the number of treatments.
For brachytherapy , treatments are usually given twice a day for 5 days in a row as outpatient procedures. Your specific treatment schedule will depend on what your oncologist has ordered.
A less common treatment option is to leave the radiation in your body for hours or days. With this type of treatment, youll stay in the hospital to protect others from the radiation.
Common side effects of external beam radiation therapy for breast cancer include:
- sunburn-like skin irritation in the treatment area
- dry, itchy, tender skin
- swelling or heaviness in your breast
Skin changes and changes to your breast tissue usually go away within a few months to a year.
Aquaphor Healing Ointment Advanced Therapy And Eucerin Original Healing Cream
Two of the most frequent products referenced are petroleum based and owned by the same company. They carry short ingredient listings which people sometimes equate with clean, but in this case nothing could be further from the truth. Lets take a look:
Aquaphor: Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Ceresin, Lanolin Alcohol, Panthenol, Glycerin, Bisabolol
Eucerin: Water, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Ceresin, Lanolin Alcohol, Phenoxyethanol, Piroctone Olamine
First are petrolatum and mineral oil , both of which are petrochemicals derived from crude oil and used as moisturizing agents.
According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, petrolatum carries no known health concerns when fully refined, however it is rarely fully refined in the US. When not fully refined, it may be contaminated with a category of impurities called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons .
Various PAHs have been identified as probable, possible, or known carcinogens , and a 2002 study in Long Island, NY found that women with high levels of PAH had a 50% greater risk of developing breast cancer.
Carcinogens aside, some medical professionals claim petroleum jelly may actually do more harm than good by trapping heat under the skin when applied to fresh burns.
What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor
Radiation burn or radiation dermatitis is a very common radiation therapy side effect. Here are some questions to help you prepare for your treatment and its effect on your skin:
- How does radiation therapy for my cancer affect my skin?
- What are radiation dermatitis symptoms and when do they occur?
- Is there anything I can do to prevent radiation burn?
- Are there soaps, lotions and creams I can use, or should avoid?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Radiation therapy is a common and effective cancer treatment. Unfortunately, this effective treatment can come with side effects, including radiation burn or radiation dermatitis. You can develop radiation burn or radiation dermatitis if youre being treated for head and neck cancer, breast cancer, skin cancer or other cancers that are on or close to your skin. Radiation burn symptoms can range from mild irritation to more serious symptoms such as infections and open sores. As you prepare for radiation treatment, ask your healthcare provider how treatment might affect your skin. They will tell you what to expect, and as important, what they will do to help if you develop radiation burn.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/29/2021.
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What To Expect With External Beam Radiation
If you have external beam radiation, youll meet with your radiation oncologist and a nurse before starting treatment. They will walk you through what to expect with external beam radiation, and the risks and benefits of this treatment.
At this time, youll likely have a physical exam and go over your medical history.
Additionally, the radiation oncologist and a radiation therapist will take scans of your treatment area. This will help define the boundaries of the affected area so they know where to aim the radiation beams.
They will put marks on your skin to mark the area. You will need the marks throughout the course of your treatment. The marks will be used to line up your body, so the radiation beams target the exact area that needs to be treated.
Sometimes a body mold will be made to immobilize you during the treatment and to help keep your body still.
Each treatment will only last a few minutes. The session setup will take longer than the actual treatment. You wont feel anything when the machine is turned on for the treatment. Its a painless procedure.
Tips To Get Through Radiation Treatment
1. Moisturize your skin.
Start using a water-based moisturizer after each treatment right away, even before any redness or dryness appears. Check with your radiation oncologist to see if there is a specific type or brand of moisturizer they prefer you use, but its best to stick to something mild and fragrance-free. Aquaphor and Glaxal Base are popular choices for people undergoing radiation, but go with whatever works for you.
2. Get rid of the itch!
After a few weeks, you may develop some itching. If the itching is fairly mild, try aloe vera or an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. If the itching worsens, talk to your doctor who should be able to prescribe something more effective.
3. Ditch the bra.
If possible, go braless whenever you can to prevent irritation around the breast area, and definitely try to avoid underwires. Its also a good idea to stick to loose clothes and t-shirts. Use this time as an excuse to be comfy and casual youll be glad you did.
4. Become a shade-worshipper.
Radiation treatments typically come with less severe side effects than chemotherapy, and as a result many people find it easier. However, the cumulative effects of radiation paired with other treatments youve gone through can add up to some major fatigue by the time youre finished. Remember to take it easy and practice self-care. Schedule some downtime throughout and after your treatments , and make sure to get ample rest.
Want more tips for during radiation treatment? .
External Beam Radiation Therapy
EBRT is the most common type of radiation therapy for women with breast cancer. A machine outside the body focuses the radiation on the area affected by the cancer.
Which areas need radiation depends on whether you had a mastectomy or breast-conserving surgery and if the cancer has reached nearby lymph nodes.
- If you had a mastectomy and no lymph nodes had cancer cells, radiation will be focused on the chest wall, the mastectomy scar, and the places where any drains exited the body after surgery.
- If you had BCS, you will most likely have radiation to the entire breast . An extra boost of radiation to the area in the breast where the cancer was removed is often given if there is a high risk of the cancer coming back. The boost is often given after the treatments to the whole breast have ended. It uses the same machine, with lower amounts of radiation aimed at the tumor bed. Most women dont notice different side effects from boost radiation than from whole breast radiation.
- If cancer was found in the lymph nodes under the arm , this area may be given radiation, as well. Sometimes, the area treated might also include the nodes above the collarbone and the nodes beneath the breast bone in the center of the chest .
Problems Moving Your Arm And Shoulder
Radiotherapy might make it harder to move your arm and shoulder. This can affect your activities and work. It usually improves when the treatment finishes. Your nurse or physiotherapist can give you exercises to help.
Its important to continue the arm exercise you were shown after your surgery. This will make it easier for you to lift your arm to the correct position during radiotherapy. It can also help stop your arm and shoulder from becoming stiff.
- There is help available ask the hospital for support
- Talk to your friends and family about how you are feeling
- Ask about local support groups
- Your GP or hospital can provide counselling
- You can get help and support online through forums
If you’re experiencing a side effect that hasn’t been covered in this video, you can find more information on the Cancer Research UK website.
On screen text: For more information go to: cruk.org/radiotherapy/side-effects
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What Causes Radiation Burn
Radiation burn or radiation dermatitis is a common side effect of external beam radiation therapy to treat some forms of cancer. This type of radiation therapy delivers radiation through a machine that targets cancerous cells. The treatment isnt painful. But it can make your skin sore, peel, itch or turn red. Thats because radiation passes through your skin to its target.
Will I notice symptoms right away?
You may not have any problems during your first few sessions. Most people whose treatment is close to the skins surface notice their skin is itchy and dry after the first session. Your skin may feel itchy and dry during your treatment. Some people develop radiation burn after their final session. Thats because radiation keeps on working even after you finish your treatment.
Easier To Clean And Use
Everyone loves a good product that will last longer without breaking or needing maintenance to keep it running smoothly! We all have busy lives, so its best to buy something that will save you time on daily tasks instead of wasting hours weekly.
This best cream for radiation burns is easy to maintain because of its simple design, making it very easy to clean! You can wash your best item in about 10 seconds or less! And best of all, if you do run into any trouble with your product, you can take advantage of the products warranty and get it replaced for free.
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Being Careful When Showering Or Bathing
A person should use warm rather than hot water, and avoid letting the spray from the showerhead directly hit the treatment area.
The National Cancer Institute notes that a person can shower daily. However, if they prefer bathing, they should do this every other day and avoid soaking for long periods of time.
They should avoid strong or fragranced soaps, and opt for gentle, fragrance-free, moisturizing soaps specifically for sensitive skin.
People should cleanse gently, and avoid scrubbing with loofahs or wash cloths, then, when done, use a soft towel to pat themselves dry..
How Do I Take Care Of Myself If I Have Radiation Burn
The most important thing is to be gentle with your skin, from washing your skin each day to the clothes you wear to protecting your skin from sunlight.
Your healthcare provider knows radiation therapy can take a toll on your skin. Theyll check your skin throughout your treatment. But you should keep a close eye on your skins condition and let your provider know any time your skin hurts, itches or you notice other changes.
When should I go to the emergency room?
Your skin can become infected. You should contact your healthcare provider go to the emergency room if you notice the skin in your treatment area:
- Looks unusually red or becomes red very quickly.
- You develop a fever.
- Your treatment area begins to drain liquid that smells bad.
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Breast Discomfort Or Swelling
You may have some tenderness in your breast on your affected side, especially at your nipple. You may also develop extra fluid in your breast that may cause sharp, stabbing sensations. Your breast or chest may feel heavy or swollen. Your shoulder on your affected side may also feel stiff.
These sensations can start within the first few days of your radiation therapy. They can go on for many months after you finish radiation therapy. Below are suggestions to help you reduce this discomfort.
- If you wear bras, you may want to choose soft, loose bras without an underwire. Sports bras or cotton bras are good choices. You may even find it more comfortable to not wear a bra at all.
- Take pain medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as needed. Some examples of NSAIDs are ibuprofen and naproxen . If you cant take an NSAID, you can take acetaminophen instead.
Hair Loss In The Armpit
Radiotherapy to the armpit will make the underarm hair fall out on that side.
Men having radiotherapy will lose the hair on the area of the chest thats being treated.
Hair usually starts to fall out two to three weeks after treatment has started and it may take several months to grow back. For some people, hair lost from radiotherapy may never grow back.
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Are Oncologists Recommending Cancer Causing Creams For Radiation
As a breast cancer survivor, few things trouble me more than the lack of knowledge about everyday toxins amongst medical professionals in the field of oncology.
I supposed its not all that surprising that theyre ill-informed about ingredients in daily use products like toothpaste and deodorant. After all, their job is to diagnose and treat cancer, not prevent it through advocating for healthy lifestyle choices.
However, what really bugs me is their recommendations for topical treatment of radiated skin.
Radiation both destroys tumors and prevents them from returning. Most women undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer experience some sort of skin irritation. If severe enough, treatment may be delayed, or possibly even halted altogether.
And while getting through treatment is important, shouldnt topical products that radiation oncologists recommend to treat the radiated area be free from ingredients that are reasonably anticipated to be carcinogenic or otherwise linked to cancer?
Sadly, this isnt the case.
Lets look at some of the top recommendations Ive heard women using over the years.
Your Role On Your Radiation Therapy Team
Your radiation therapy care team will work together to care for you. Youre a part of that team, and your role includes:
- Getting to your appointments on time.
- Asking questions and talking about your concerns.
- Telling someone on your care team when you have symptoms related to your treatment.
- Telling someone on your care team if youre in pain.
- Caring for yourself at home by:
- Quitting smoking if you smoke. If you want to quit, call our Tobacco Treatment Program at .
- Caring for your skin based on your care teams instructions
- Drinking liquids based on your care teams instructions.
- Eating the foods your care team suggests.
- Staying around the same weight.
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Can I Buy Something Similar Cheaper Elsewhere
One of the most common questions that a lot of customers ask is, Can I buy something similar cheaper elsewhere? The short answer is no. When you are looking for a quality cream for radiation burns, the most important thing to know is that cheap is not always better. You should carefully research the best cream for radiation burns before buying and consult the prices on some online sales websites to make the best decision.
If You Have Side Effects
Let your doctor or nurse know if you have side effects or are worried about anything.
When treatment ends you usually have regular appointments for about 5 years afterwards. You can talk to your doctor or nurse at these appointments. But you don’t have to wait for your next appointment if you get a new side effect or are worried about anything. You can bring the appointment forward.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence June 2018
Treatment of primary breast cancerScottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network, September 2013
Postoperative radiotherapy for Breast Cancer: UK consensus statement
The Royal College of Radiologists, 2016
Early Breast Cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines 2019F Cardoso and others
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What Emotional Responses Might I Expect
You may or may not experience anxiety or fear when you begin your treatment. Most people tell us that their concerns lessen as they adapt to the new environment and treatment.
Please speak to the staff if you feel that you need either emotional or practical support. There is a social worker on staff in the Radiation Oncology department. This may be a time when you think again about support groups or one-to-one consultation for the feelings that arise or to support your coping. For information about support services, please call the Breast Care Center at 353-7070.
What Is Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy rays or particles to treat disease. It works by killing tumor cells or inhibiting their growth and division.
Through years of clinical trials, radiation oncologists have studied the use of radiation therapy to treat breast cancer. These studies have led to the widespread use of effective and tolerable doses of radiation therapy. It is used to treat early stage breast cancer along with surgery for local control of disease. It may be used in more advanced breast cancer to control the disease or to treat symptoms, such as pain.
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Radiation Therapy After Mastectomy
Radiation therapy may also be recommended after a mastectomy for women with cancer in the lymph nodes and who may have other high-risk factors. Radiation therapy is directed at the reconstructed breast or the chest wall and the lymph node basinsthe area where the nodes were surgically removed. Post-mastectomy radiation therapy typically takes five to six weeks.
Our experts ensure that the radiation therapy is delivered as precisely as possible. If you are receiving external beam radiation therapy, you are not radioactive in any way and do not need to limit contact with children or pregnant women.