Virginia Integrative Health
410 Pine Street Southeast
Vienna, VA 22180
Combating Effects Of Radiation On the Skin
Cancer. That single word evokes a cascade of understandably fearful and anxious emotions. It does so many life-altering things to those affected. It’s natural to focus on the immediacy of beating the cancer, just surviving. However, the measures of radiation and chemotherapy used to accomplish survival are harsh at best, and the consequences of those harsh treatments can take their toll. Fortunately, there are a number of effective and indicated treatments to help combat and heal the effect of radiation on the skin.
How does radiation affect
skin and tissue?
Radiation treatments are designed to destroy not only tumor tissue, but also the blood vessels near the tumor to starve it of food – namely sugar. Unfortunately, radiation can’t differentiate healthy tissue vs. tumor tissue, it just destroys. This includes the skin that it travels through to get to the tumor.
Often, healthy tissue isn’t destroyed immediately through the collateral damage, but because of the damage to the blood supply that supports the skin, slowly but steadily the skin can thin, retract, tighten, scar, and even cause open up or ulcerate. Does this happen to everybody who has undergone radiation? Certainly not, but older individuals with thinner skin, people with poor diets, and those with more treatments are at greater risk. Many can also experience pain and loss of range of motion at the site.
How can skin damage and
delayed injury from radiation
Daily supportive measures are the first step. Eat a healthy diet low in simple sugars (they’re inflammatory), eliminate processed foods, and drink plenty of water (reverse osmosis filtered preferred).
Apply nourishing moisturizer to the site that the radiation passed through every day – those with stem cells or growth factors are especially helpful. Supplement with a high quality fish oil rich in omega 3’s. Exercise regularly to increase blood flow everywhere – this will help get blood to areas where the vessels have been damaged but not completely eliminated.
From a medical treatment perspective, low level laser therapy (LLLT) uses “cold” lasers to stimulate the tissue at a cellular level to increase blood flow and energy production. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), which has been so successful in treating scaring from radiation damage that it is one of the 15 indications approved by Medicare as a treatment for reducing pain, improving tissue integrity, and increasing range of motion. Both treatments are completely non-invasive and can work synergistically to create healthier, stronger, and better looking skin.