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External-Beam Radiation

What To Do And Not Do While You Undergo Radiation

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  • The planning session
    • Consider having someone go with you to the planning visit as well as to your first treatment. Another person can provide emotional support, help ask questions, and help you remember what was said. 
    • Consider taking a recorder to the planning visit to record the conversation so you can review it later. (Your mobile phone may have recording capability).
  • Treatments
    • Before a treatment, do not apply powder, lotion or creams to the affected area before your daily radiation treatment. They can sometimes act as irritants if present during radiation. (It is better to apply these products after the treatment or at bedtime).
    • Keep your scheduled appointments. A full course of treatment is necessary to make sure all the cancer cells are destroyed. If you or a doctor miss a day, make it up so you get the entire dose that was planned for you.
  • Skin care
    • The treated area may become red like a sun burn, irritated, dry, itchy or sensitive. There may even be some swelling. The possibility and severity of developing a skin reaction depends on the area being treated, the amount of radiation and whether or not you are also getting chemotherapy. 
    • Ask your radiation oncologist what to use on the treated area to reduce possible burning, dryness and discomfort. Generally a moisturizing cream such as Lubriderm, Aloe Vera gels, or Liquid Vitamin E is recommended. It would help if the oncologist gives you the name of specific products.
    • Consider wearing soft, loose clothing during the weeks you receive radiation. For instance, oversized cotton tee-shirts which you can wear inside out so the seams do not rub.
    • Wash the area gently with lukewarm water and mild soap. Run the water over the treated area. Avoid very hot or very cold temperatures and avoid lathering soap or scrubbing in the treated area.  Pat the treated area dry.
    • Do not place anything hot or cold such as ice packs or heating pads on the treated area. 
    • Do not put tape directly on the treated area.
  • Do not take vitamins, minerals, herbs, antioxidants or other supplements without first asking your doctor, nurse or dietitian whether it is okay. Some of these substances can be harmful. Some may reduce the effectiveness of the radiation therapy.
  • To the extent possible, avoid scratching the treated area. Scratching can cause infection or soreness.
  • Clothing
    • Wear soft, loose clothing that doesn't irritate the treated area.
    • Avoid clothing that may irritate the skin such as wool.
  • Do not expose treated areas to direct sunlight during treatment and for at least 6 months after the end of treatment. Do not use sunscreens on the treated area.
  • Maintain your diet. It is preferable not to lose weight during treatment.
  • If medical personnel suggest or allow you take vitamins, minerals, herbs, antioxidants or other supplements, do not take more than is recommended without first checking with medical personnel.
  • Women: It is best to avoid getting pregnant while undergoing radiation treatment.

If A Breast Will Be Radiated

  • If you need to wear a bra, it is advisable to go to a shop that has a professional fitter. Try on all the bras that could work for you. Consider buying only one of the most comfortable and trying it out for a few days or a week before buying another one. The bra can be washed every night.
  • Ask which deodorants are okay to use, and which aren't.

To Learn More

More Information

Glossary of Radiation Terms

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