Radiation therapy to areas of skin

Knowing what to expect during and after treatment can help you prepare and reduce any anxiety that you may be feeling. The following information has been put together to help you understand your radiation therapy treatment, and we hope to reduce any concerns you have. It does not replace discussion with your doctor, or the advice of your treatment team specific to your needs.

What are the possible short-term side effects?

Radiation therapy may cause side effects. Everyone is different and you’re unlikely to experience all of the side effects listed.

Skin reaction

During treatment your skin may become red, itchy or irritated. Towards the end of treatment, the skin reaction can become more intense however usually returns to normal four to six weeks after treatment finishes. Your treatment team will show you how to care for your skin and provide support. Tell your treatment team if you are experiencing any skin changes.


You may feel tired or lack energy for daily activities during your treatment. This is a common reaction to radiation therapy and each person can be affected differently. Finding a balance between rest and activity will help you manage daily life.

Hair loss

Radiation therapy to the skin may cause the hair in the treatment area to fall out, usually a few weeks after treatment begins. Hair will usually regrow within three to six months. The colour or texture may be different, and it may grow back thinner or patchy.

Occasionally, hair loss can be permanent if you have a high dose of radiation therapy. Your doctor will discuss this with you before you start your treatment. Please talk to us if have any questions regarding losing your hair.

Your radiation oncologist will discuss any possible long-term side effects related specifically to your treatment.

How can I manage my skin during treatment?

Moisturise twice a day

At the start of your treatment, apply cream to the area being treated twice a day. As treatment progresses, you may need to apply the cream three to four times per day. Let your treatment team know if you continue to experience skin changes.

Wear loose fitting clothing

Avoid wearing tight fitting clothing that could potentially rub or irritate the skin in the treatment area. You may find singlets, cotton ‘crop-tops’ or loose fitting bras more comfortable.

Avoid excessive temperatures

Avoid exposing the treatment area to excessive temperatures, such as direct sunlight, heat packs, ice packs, electric blankets, saunas, hot spas or swimming in chlorinated pools.

Wash with warm water and pat dry

Gently wash the treatment area with warm water and a mild, non-perfumed soap. Pat your skin dry – do not rub. If the treatment area is on your scalp, you can wash your hair daily using a mild shampoo. Use an electric razor if shaving in the area is necessary and avoid applying makeup in the treatment area.

Wear a soft, wide brimmed hat

If the treatment area is on your scalp, ears and face, wear a soft wide brimmed hat to protect from the sun. Avoid wearing sunscreen on the treatment area while receiving radiation therapy.

Skin loss

If you experience any skin breakdown this can be managed with a simple dressing until the area heals. It is important to talk to your treatment team about the best way to manage any broken skin as many types of dressings can’t be used on the treatment area.

Discomfort and sensitivity

Skin changes should settle within four weeks of your last treatment. If you experience discomfort in the area you may need to take some pain medication. Please talk to your treatment team about any discomfort.


Prescriptions and vitamins

Continue to take any prescribed medications. Please inform your nurse if you are taking vitamins, antioxidants or herbal supplements and if you are commenced on any new medications during your radiation therapy treatment.

If you have any questions regarding medications please discuss this with your radiation oncologist or nurse.

Common questions

How will radiation therapy affect my day to day life?

You may continue your usual work and activities, but you may need to rest more than usual due to tiredness or fatigue during treatment.

Unless otherwise advised, you can eat and drink normally. Alcohol consumption in moderation is permitted, and you can continue to take any prescribed medications.

Can I wash the marks off my skin?

We ask that you don’t deliberately wash them off as this may further irritate your skin. The radiation therapists will re-apply them each day as required.

What happens after my treatment is finished?

Reviews and follow up appointments will be discussed and organised by your treatment team prior to completing treatment.

When should side effects settle?

Radiation therapy treatment keeps working even after you have stopped coming in for regular treatment. This means symptoms may get a little worse before they get better. Generally, side effects will settle within two to four weeks of finishing your treatment.

Will radiation make me radioactive?

Radiation therapy does not make you radioactive and it is safe to be around others, including children and pregnant women during and after your treatment. There is no restriction on physical contact with others.

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  • Level B3, Bowen Specialist Medical Centre 98 Churchill Drive Crofton Downs Wellington 6035