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Question

Breast cancer radiation: Can it cause dry skin?

Can breast cancer radiation cause dry skin? Can you offer suggestions for relief?

Updated: 03-28-2019

Answer

Answer Section

Dry skin after breast cancer radiation treatment is fairly common. In addition to dry, flaky, itchy skin, you may experience sunburn-like skin changes to the treated area.

If you're struggling with persistent itching and burning symptoms following the radiation treatment, consult your radiation oncologist. He or she can help determine whether any underlying conditions are contributing to your symptoms or decide if you should make an appointment with a skin specialist (dermatologist).

In the meantime, these suggestions may help:

  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Moisturize your skin. Moisturizers provide a seal over your skin to keep water from escaping. Thicker moisturizers work best. Choose a moisturizer that's water-based and unscented. Ask your doctor or nurse to recommend specific products.
  • Limit bath time. Hot water and long showers or baths can dry your skin. Take short baths or showers, and use warm — rather than hot — water.
  • Wash with mild soap. Avoid harsh, drying soaps such as deodorant or antibacterial types.
  • Avoid direct sun. Wear protective clothing, such as a broad-brimmed hat and shirt with long sleeves to protect your skin from the sun. Don't use tanning beds.

Make an appointment with your cancer doctor if you notice any new or persistent areas of skin redness. If the itching and burning don't improve or you have blistering or scarring from breast cancer radiation, your doctor may recommend various prescription medications to ease your symptoms.