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Sunday, October 05, 2008 Ulrike I. Dennett, Community Member, asks

Q: Is it normal to have a severe "radiation burn" from radiation treatment?

I was diagnosed Stage 4 breast cancer, had a lumpectomy, and underwent chemotherapy (6 rounds). 6 weeks later, they started radiation therapy; daily, once on either side of my breast.I am now experiencing a severe radiation burn under my armpit; looks like 2nd degree, outer skin is peeling and is painful.  I have 1 week remaining where they say they will just target the lumpectomy site, but I'm concerned that with the present condition of

my breast, that this will be more harmful than good.  What can I do?  The doctor and

nurse and technician assure me that this will heal after treatments are completed.  I have

nothing to compare to.  I don't know of anyone who has had this reaction.   

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Answers (8)
PJ Hamel, Health Guide
10/ 5/08 1:40pm

Ulrike, I don't know how common this reaction is, but it certainly happens. Happened to a friend of mine; she couldn't stand to wear any clothes at all from the waist up for awhile... luckily she was retired and could stay home. So yes, I've heard of this happening. I believe the medical pros are right- they can avoid irradiating that area for the last week, and yes, it'll heal. Sorry you had such a bad reaction- on top of all the rest of your treatment, you must feel like you're going theough the Seven Plagues! Hope things go well for you as you get through this active treatment phase and move into drug therapy, or wherever you go next. Best of luck - PJH

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6/14/09 4:00am

I am having a similar reaction.  Stage III breast cancer with 7 positive lymph nodes, lumpectomy, chemotherapy and just finished 5 weeks of radiation treatment and next week will only have radiation on lumpectomy site. This weekend the skin under my arm has 3 serious looking burns, one of which has peeled, is about 3 inches around, and is very painful.  My questions are:  How long will the radiation burning continue to get worse?  Will next week's radiation treatments make everything worse? or will it be limited to the area being irradiated?

 

The doctor has only prescribed using Panthenol spray which is not effective in pain relief so I am using aloe vera gelly which cools the area and provides some pain relief.  Will this affect the radiation of my lumpectomy site?

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PJ Hamel, Health Guide
6/14/09 6:45am

Hi - Everyone reacts differently to radiation; unfortunately, it sounds like you had a severe reaction. I'd surmise that next week's treatments, if they're not aimed at the burned area, won't worsen it. I think it takes a direct shot of radiation to produce burns. And be sure to wash off the aloe vera before getting radiation—IF they're radiating where the burn is. When I did radiation, I was told creams and jellies can affect its delivery. Bottom line: ask the tech(s) when you go in if you need to wash it off. Hope things go well this week so you can get past this and get healing- PJH

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Haven, Community Member
8/12/09 3:22pm

After 18 radiation treatments I had severe inflamation, pain and that lovely shade of red skinFrown. Stage III, 10 positive lymph nodes, masectomy, 8 treatments of chemotherapy and 37 treatments of radiation.  Each time you get the treatment it gets worse since the effect is cummulative. If available have the Doctor prescribe Silver Sulfadiazine Cream 1%, this cream is great, it alleviates the pain, cools the area and you will see improvement.  It is usually prescribed for burn patients.

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Sarah Davidson, Community Member
3/23/13 3:01pm

I am entering my 7th week of radiation treatment for stage 1 breast cancer, with the last treatment focused only on the cancer area (as opposed to the whole breast). I had surgery in November 2012, and started radiation in February 2013. The fold under my breast has started to peel (now a wound), and it is getting larger. This area is oozing water and it has an identifiable offensive smell... Also, my nipple has a wound around it and it is oozing water... Both wounds are very painful and I am taking RX pain pills. I informed my radiation doctors last Thursday and they stopped radiation in order to give the affected areas time to heal... I have a RX cream(BIAFINE) that is supposed to help the burning, but it does not appear to be doing any good... However, I guess it could be worse if I were not using it. I am very concerned because I have never had an open wound to smell before... I was told that air should heal the wounds and that I should not put anything on them. I hope the doctors are correct and I was wondering whether I should see a dermatologist.  The discomfort is starting to make my movements awkward.

 

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PJ Hamel, Health Guide
3/23/13 3:47pm

Sarah, when you go for your treatment Monday, make sure you see your radiologist, not just the tech folks. Get the wounds assessed; it sounds like they're very raw, and must be uncomfortable, as you indicate. An odor doesn't necessarily mean infection (just like having smelly feet doesn't indicate infection; it's often just collected sweat/moisture), but you do want the oozing parts looked at. Your best bet, as they say, is to try to keep the area completely dry; not easy, when it's in the crease, but hopefully you're keeping it all aired out as much as you can. If your radiologist thinks you need to see a dermatologist, s/he'll make an appointment for you. Good luck - at least you're nearly at the end of treatment, right? Undecided PJH

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Phyllis Johnson, Health Guide
3/24/13 8:03am

Sarah, I also had some blistering and oozing although I don't remember a smell.  Do make sure the radiation oncologist sees the wound.  I found the nurses had the most practical suggestions for dressings and creams.  My worst burns were on my neck where the doctor was radiating lymph nodes and where it was hard to apply a dressing.  I was working, so finding a clothes and bandages to wear was a hassle.  I wish now I had taken a few days off to stay at home to rest and "air out."  It home I could have worn nothing by a loose T-shirt.

A dermatologist might be able to help, but there is also a category of doctors who are wound specialists who might be even better if this doesn't start to heal.  As PJ says, your radiation oncologist can make the referral to the doctor who could best deal with the wound if necessary.  I hope you are just at the worst point of the process and that you will soon see an improvement.  Studies do show that radiation works, so hang in there.

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Luis, Community Member
12/ 9/13 5:29am

Thank you very much for all your comments.  My sister in law is going to finish 25 sections of radiotheraphy and everyday is getting worse and worse on her skin. Doctor has said that once the radio is finidhed, the skin will be worse, she is currently using cero clothes at home, she also tried aloe vera but her  skin got even worse. i am currently looking for any kind of cream or something to aply.

 

 

Regards   Fernando

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Phyllis Johnson, Health Guide
12/ 9/13 7:43am

It is common for the skin to be burned by the end of radiation, and the doctor is right that the radiation effects continue for a couple of weeks after the last treatment.  I also used aloe vera gel (the plain kind with no extra ingredients) at first, but later the doctor prescribed a special burn cream.  The nurse at the radiation center also gave me special dressing material to cover the burns and help with the pain.  Whatever she uses should be checked by the doctor.  This isn't a situation for home remedies.  If she can go without a bra, she will be more comfortable, but I know that isn't always possible.  I was working during my own radiation and had to wait until I got home to change into a soft T-shirt.  I'm sorry she is having trouble with radiation.  Some people get through it with minimal trouble, and some people with more sensitive skin find it painful.  Fatigue can also be a side effect from radiation, so she should plan on extra rest.  I hope she soon feels better.

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Phyllis Johnson, Health Guide
10/ 5/08 6:34pm

Ulrike, I think your response to radiation is not unusual.  People do vary in how much they burn.  I had a fairly extensive area of burns that looked really bad to me, but my doctor was saying how pleased she was with how well my skin was holding up.  Sometimes radiation has to be stopped because the skin breaks down.  I was getting extra radiation because 16 of my lymph nodes were positive, and seeing that you are Stage 4, I'm guessing that your doctor might be giving you more radiation than some of your friends whose cancer is less advanced have received.  Studies show that radiation really works, so try to hang in there.  The nurse should be able to give you some creams and dressings that will help.

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Angi, Community Member
10/ 6/08 11:30am

Ulrike - I had a simular reaction when I underwent radiation.  The doctor and nurses all told me to make sure I lather up with Keri Original, Jergens with Aloe, or the like type of lotion 3 times a day.  I went from being regular skin toned to burnt to a crisp overnight.  But once radaition ended (in Aug) my skin bubbled & peeled like a sunburn and now I'm just a tad darker.  The lotion really helps.  You should likely be checking in with your radiation dr weekly - have him look at the burn and see what he thinks.  He may rx some special aloe gel.

Good luck!

Angi

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Shivv, Community Member
5/22/09 7:15pm

Hey its sounds pretty normal Unfortunately that s what happens some people on radiation. Everyone is different My mother just finished radiio two weeks ago and is now in hospital for severe burns she received from it. It's two weeks on and it's very slow. At the time she was totally bedridden and could not even dress herself All her skin broke and got infected. With these thing s its time that is the healer unfortunately. They are using chamomile soaks on her and pain relief but nothing else. Just telling you in case you think something is wrong or abnormal. Hope you heal well

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Shivv, Community Member
5/22/09 7:17pm

Hey its sounds pretty normal Unfortunately that s what happens some people on radiation. Everyone is different My mother just finished radiio two weeks ago and is now in hospital for severe burns she received from it. It's two weeks on and it's very slow. At the time she was totally bedridden and could not even dress herself All her skin broke and got infected. With these thing s its time that is the healer unfortunately. They are using chamomile soaks on her and pain relief but nothing else. Just telling you in case you think something is wrong or abnormal. Hope you heal well

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ng10, Community Member
7/ 1/10 1:00pm

I think skin changes it can be "pretty normal" but does not have to be as awful as you describe. I work at a hospital that has a breast center. We recommend patients use lotions like "Burn Block" which has aloe and panthenol or Aquaphor as soon as radiation begins. Don't wait until the skin gets pink. Most places want you to come in with clean untreated  skin before you receive your radiation treatment socheck with your rad. onc.first  but there should be no problem applying immediatley after.

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ng10, Community Member
7/ 1/10 1:01pm

I think skin changes it can be "pretty normal" but does not have to be as awful as you describe. I work at a hospital that has a breast center. We recommend patients use lotions like "Burn Block" which has aloe and panthenol or Aquaphor as soon as radiation begins. Don't wait until the skin gets pink. Most places want you to come in with clean untreated  skin before you receive your radiation treatment socheck with your rad. onc.first  but there should be no problem applying immediatley after.

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angry, Community Member
11/20/10 11:17am

My son in law receive numerous radiation treatments. He has cancer in his tongue, neck and chest. He was burnt so badly that under his chin there is a huge gapping hole. This hole also has an odor to it.  His cancer is aggressive and come to find out the treatment did not work. But why would they continue to burn someone so severely. Is this normal? 

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Phyllis Johnson, Health Guide
11/20/10 8:05pm

I'm sorry that your son-in-law had such terrible burns from radiation only to find out that the treatment didn't work.  This is a breast cancer site, so we don't know much about radiation for other types of cancer.  I also had an aggressive cancer, and my radiation did cause bad burns.  I found that the nurses at the radiation center were the best people to advise me on dressings that helped keep the wounds clean and as comfortable as possible.  

The amount of radiation given for each type of cancer is carefully determined by research, and the radiation oncologist knows how much is necessary for the best chance to kill the cancer cells.  Unfortunately, the research can not predict how well an individual's body will hold up under the radiation.  If your son-in-law's burns have not healed, he needs to call the radiation oncologist and go back in for treatment for the burns.  He may even need to see a wound specialist.

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angry, Community Member
11/21/10 11:28am

thank you for your response. They were going to fix it , if they didn't find cancer in his chest but they did so now they r just leaving it alone. They said he was terminal. I guess it is worth a shot but why wouldn't the doctors mention it to him. We are not giving up hope , he is only 20.  

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By Ulrike I. Dennett, Community Member— Last Modified: 02/12/14, First Published: 10/05/08