Radiation is often part of the treatment regimen for breast cancer. Some of the side effects for skin can be irritation, itchiness, tenderness and darkening or reddening in the radiated area. While undergoing treatment, there will be recommendations to ease any discomfort, such as using a cool compress. Fortunately I didn’t experience much of that, not even the typical darkening or redness of the skin. However, I did experience dryness. I was given home care instructions for use during breast radiation and following treatment.
Tips that can help you avoid discomfort and skin irritation:
- Avoid wearing tight clothing or irritating fabric (such as wool), or tight bras—I stuck with comfortable cotton sports bras.
- Keep the area covered and protected from sunlight when going out.
- Take showers instead of baths. Make sure the water is not too hot and doesn’t directly fall on the breast.
- If you do take baths, avoid soaking the area while in the tub.
- Avoid harsh soaps. Make sure they are mild and preferably fragrance-free.
I was given Boiron's Calendula Lotion to use twice daily, starting with the first day of radiation treatment. I’d take the bottle along with me and apply it right after the radiation treatment to minimize reaction, and then again later in the evening.
Calendula Skin Benefits
Calendula (calendula officinalis) also called marigold, is native to Asia and Southern and Central Europe and is now cultivated throughout North America. Calendula has been used for centuries to treat cuts, bruises and minor burns because it speeds up the healing of skin irritations and wounds. Calendula’s healing anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties are due to the presence of plant chemical compounds such as saponins and flavonoids.
The Calendula Lotion is water-based, making it good for use on large areas. It’s soothing to skin irritations, insect bites, rashes and sunburn. (Some women have likened the effects of radiation to getting sunburn.) There are other ointments that can be used during radiation and natural remedies such as aloe vera gel (from the actual leaf)—which I found too sticky. The Calendula Lotion quickly absorbed my skin and didn’t get on my clothing at night (some ointments will stain clothing).
Always ask your radiologist about what you should use on the skin. You can find more information at breastcancer.org which has other tips for taking care of the skin during radiation treatment.