Scientists and doctors are continually coming up with new and innovative ways to treat, cope with, and conquer cancer – a mission we at CamWell have taken to heart when it comes to our product development. To date, radiation therapy is one of the most effective forms of treatment in the fight against cancer. While approximately 14 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed globally each year, it’s estimated that 50 percent of all cancer patients can benefit from radiation therapy.  

Despite its positive impact on treatment as a whole, radiation therapy side effects still present themselves in many patients. Patients often complain of pain and itchiness after radiation therapy, as well as radiation dermatitis – one of the most common side effects of radiation therapy.

Fortunately, there are plenty of precautions patients and their care team can take to help mitigate the negative impact of radiation dermatitis and radiation therapy side effects on their everyday lives.

Radiation Therapy Side Effects & How to Cope

Of course, many radiation therapy side effects will depend on the type of cancer you are being treated for, as well as it’s location, dose, and your overall health. As treatment has continued to be refined and more scientific advances have been made, it’s become more precise – thus reducing the amount of radiation therapy side effects patients may feel. While CamWell is home to several botanical products including radiation cream designed to help patients cope with side effects related to the skin, our goal is to help you be informed. This article will cover the broad scope of various side-effects that you or your loved one may experience.

Radiation therapy is a localized treatment, meaning it only affects the area of the body where a tumor is located. Because of this, most side effects are typically limited to the area that receives treatment and are site-specific. Some site-specific examples include:

  • Head and Neck – dry mouth, nausea, jaw stiffness, hair loss, tooth decay
  • Chest – difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, shoulder stiffness
  • Stomach and Abdomen – nausea, vomiting, diarrhea

In most cases, patients will experience more common side effects throughout the course of their radiation treatment.

Fatigue from Radiation Treatment

Fatigue is an extremely common radiation therapy side effect. It can best be described as a feeling of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. Many patients will begin to feel fatigue within a few weeks of radiation therapy, and the condition has a tendency to worsen as treatment goes on. This occurs mainly because radiation therapy destroys healthy cells as well as cancerous cells.

Coping with Fatigue

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Luckily, as a patient there are many precautions you can take yourself to help combat your feelings of fatigue. If you’re here as because you’re caring for a cancer patient at home, you can also read this post with tips to avoid caregiver burnout. These are some helpful strategies to overcome fatigue:

Get Plenty of Rest – This may seem obvious, but it’s important nonetheless! Carve time out in your day to relax. Taking short naps throughout the day may also help you recoup some of your energy.

Conserve Energy – Listen to your body and plan your days accordingly around your energy levels whenever possible. Save energy for the most important activities and be sure to ask for help when needed.

Maintain Energy Levels – We believe food is the best medicine, and this is no more evident than when it comes to managing fatigue. Be sure to drink lots of fluids and eat well to keep your energy levels up.

Stay Active – When possible, light exercise throughout the week will help you preserve energy. It’s helpful to get into a routine that you can maintain throughout the course of treatment.

Speak Up – This is arguably the most important and effective strategy when it comes to battling fatigue. Don’t assume fatigue is simply part of your treatment – if it’s disrupting your day-to-day activities and reducing quality of life, be sure to speak with your doctor.

Changes in Appetite Post Radiation Therapy

It’s common for patients receiving radiation therapy to experience some changes in appetite. You may experience changes in taste or smell, which may make eating the meals you used to eat difficult. Of course, appetite changes can lead to malnutrition – which in turn has an adverse effect on your treatment as a whole. Because of this, it’s important to notify your doctor or care team about any changes in appetite as soon as you notice them.

Coping with Changes in Appetite

Malnutrition is one of the most important things to avoid throughout your treatment. Fortunately, YOU are in control of much that can be done to counteract it.

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day
  • Pay attention to your body and take advantage of the times you’re naturally hungry
  • Keep ready-made foods on hand
  • Limit fried foods that can wreak havoc on your gastrointestinal tract
  • Incorporate nutritional smoothies and protein drinks into your diet
  • Complete light exercises that can stimulate your appetite

Skin Problems

Skin problems are some of the most common side effects that can lead to pain and itching during and after radiation therapy. First and foremost, it’s important to let your care team or doctor know about any sort of skin changes you may be experiencing before, during and after treatment.

Skin reactions may slowly dissipate at the conclusion of treatment, however many patients may develop radiation dermatitis.

Radiation Dermatitis – What is it?

Radiation dermatitis is one of the most common radiation therapy skin side effects – nearly two-thirds of all cancer patients will be treated with radiation therapy, and 95 percent of all patients receiving the treatment will develop some form of radiation dermatitis.

During radiation therapy x-rays pass through the skin – the byproduct of this radiation is irradiated free radicals in the body. These free radicals cause tissue damage, DNA damage, and the all too common inflamed skin patients often have to deal with as a radiation therapy side effect.

As treatment continues, the skin does not have time to heal in between sessions. Eventually, this leads to the affected area of skin itself breaking down, which in turn leads to radiation dermatitis symptoms beginning to present themselves.  

Radiation Dermatitis Symptoms

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The positive thing that patients should remember is that many of the symptoms that present themselves with radiation dermatitis can be dealt with, either through home precautions or another form of radiation pain relief. Symptoms typically only appear on the areas of skin exposed to radiation, and usually arise within a few days or weeks of starting radiation therapy.

Radiation dermatitis ranges from acute to chronic based on four stages of severity. The level of severity varies from lowest to highest depending on the symptoms you may be experiencing:

Stage One – Faint redness and skin peeling

Stage Two – Moderate redness and swelling, skin thinning in skin folds

Stage Three – Skin thinning more than 1.5 cm across, severe swelling is present

Stage Four – Death of skin cells and deep skin ulcers

While radiation therapy side effects can often be wide-ranging, these are the most common symptoms present with radiation dermatitis:

  • Erythema – Characterized by skin redness or pinkness, this symptom can occur within hours of treatment – but most often will start showing up within 10-14 days following radiation. Erythema progressively worsens during treatment, and often looks like a sunburn. The patient may also be experiencing itchiness on the affected area. While this can occur with any form of cancer, itchy skin during breast radiation therapy is more common. This can eventually result in the skin being sore for breast cancer patients.  
  • Edema – Skin swelling that can often feel hard underneath the skin.
  • Blisters or Skin Ulcers – Can present themselves as interior or exterior.
  • Desquamation – This side effect is characterized by peeling skin, and can present itself as either dry or moist. Desquamation is typical when dealing with higher doses of radiation, and usually appears in the later stages of treatment.

In the case of dry desquamation, the skin may simply feel dry, and you may experience some peeling – this condition typically does not have any accompanying pain.

Moist desquamation, however, is painful. This occurs as a result of the destruction and sloughing of dermal layers of the skin. It often begins as small patches in skin folds, but can progress to involve larger areas of the skin. Moist desquamation is characterized by serious fluid drainage, also known as weeping radiation burn.

Risk Factors of Radiation Dermatitis

Several factors can contribute to the likelihood of developing radiation dermatitis, including:

  • Age
  • Whether or not you are a smoker
  • Having overlapping skin folds
  • Poor skin strength before radiation therapy
  • Obesity
  • Other health conditions occurring at the same time, such as diabetes
  • Genetics

In many cases, patients are more likely to develop radiation dermatitis if they are receiving high doses of radiation therapy, treatment on a large area of the body, or are receiving radiation therapy for a long period of time.

Coping with Radiation Dermatitis

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Fortunately, since radiation dermatitis is so common, there are many things you can do to cope with the condition and aid in your radiation pain relief.

CamWell™ Herb to Soothe cream for radiation burns is oncologist-formulated, and safe to use before, during and after radiation therapy. The effects of radiation dermatitis may cause you to feel uncomfortable or self-conscious, something we at CamWell take to heart. We’ve made it our mission to help patients achieve a better quality of life throughout their treatments through the use of our products.

Herb to Soothe is designed to aid in healing skin damaged by radiation therapy and reduce radiation scarring. It can be applied on weeping skin ulceration areas as well. CamWell products are based on the wisdom of traditional medicine combined with the power of clinical research – and deliver maximum strength results with minimal use and multiple benefits, including:

  • Gentle, powerful, natural relief
  • Relief of pain, itchiness and tenderness
  • Soothing and healing of itching, painful radiation areas
  • Calms inflammation
  • Hydrates severely dried skin
  • Speeds wound healing
  • Maintains beautiful, healthy skin throughout the course of treatment

CamWell Herb to Soothe product is backed by science – its efficacy has been proven through randomized, controlled trials in which 69.2% of patients reported a complete response as it related to their radiation dermatitis symptoms. Additionally, CamWell Herb to Soothe was recently presented at the 2019 AACR-AHNS Combined Otolaryngology Spring Meetings in Austin, TX, and was featured in a Johns Hopkins medical study at the conference.

In addition to utilizing the strength of CamWell, other home precautions patients can take include:

  • Washing with cool or warm water
  • Avoiding scrubbing of the skin
  • Avoiding colognes or other skin products containing alcohol
  • Using an electric razor to shave rather than a razor blade
  • Drinking lots of fluids
  • Keeping nails clean and short to prevent scratching

Patients seeking radiation burn treatment should remain optimistic and positive, as there is plenty that can be done to mitigate its effects. Don’t spend another day in discomfort when help is within your reach! The CamWell team is ready to help you achieve a better quality of life – and we feel an overwhelming sense of pride in being able to help patients get there through the use of our oncologist-formulated creams.