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Breast Cancer Radiation Therapy Care

Skin care

Skin reactions from radiation therapy are temporary. Reactions generally begin two weeks after treatment has started. Peak reactions may continue for two weeks after treatment ends and then will begin to heal and subside. The following instructions apply only to the skin in the treatment area.

Wash your skin in the treatment area gently with lukewarm water. Blot your skin dry with a soft towel. You may use a mild soap, such as Ivory, Dove or Basis. Avoid soaps that contain perfumes or irritants. These can dry your skin. Do not rub, scrub or scratch the skin in the treatment area. Your skin will be dryer than usual, may peel and may be easily irritated. If your skin becomes dry or itchy, tell your nurse.

Do not shave in the treated area while you are having treatments. Treat your skin gently until any sign of skin reaction has cleared completely. Do not use hot water bottles, heating lights, electric heating pads or hot packs on the treated areas.

During your treatment, keep the treated area out of the sun to prevent sunburn. A sunburn may lead to a more severe reaction. Continue to avoid sunburns at least one year after your treatment has ended by using a sun blocking lotion that is at least SPF 20 or greater, or cover the treatment area with clothing.

If you are having extreme perspiration problems, you may use cornstarch lightly under your arms and under your breast. Keep your skin clean, dry and open to air as much as possible. Wear only loose-fitting cotton clothing over the treatment area to prevent further irritation. You may prefer to wear a cotton T-shirt instead of a bra. If you have large breasts and need a bra for comfort, you may wear a well-fitted cotton bra when in public.

Do not apply any lotions, perfumes, deodorants or powders to the treatment area. These products can be irritating to the skin and cause a more severe reaction. Should you require a lotion to moisturize dry skin, consult your nurse or doctor.

About the last week of treatment, you may notice that your treated skin is peeling or looking moist. Be sure to let your nurse know. We can give you specific instructions about caring for this reaction. If you are wearing a breast prosthesis, make sure it is smooth and doesn't rub on your skin. You may want to wear a cotton T-shirt underneath for extra protection from friction. Remember, radiation treatments make your skin more easily irritated.


You may notice that you feel unusually tired during the last weeks of your treatment. This is an expected side effect. We recommend you pace your activities and include frequent rest periods, to avoid becoming overtired.