Complications of Radiation Treatment for Skin Cancer

Radiation treatment for skin cancer is a good thing because it can destroy cancerous cells and prevent the spread of cancer to other parts of the body. Early treatment is key to an overall effective plan to cancer survival. As with every cancer treatment, there are good and bad side effects. Skin cancer radiation has good side effects, but the bad side effects must be considered as well.

One complication of radiation treatment for skin cancer concerns immediate side effects. Since the skin cancer patient has been exposed to high-energy beams, he or she may feel as though his or her skin has been in the sun. Ultraviolet, or UV, rays have been shown scientifically to cause skin cancer. Radiation treatment will feel as though you have been exposed to the sun. The skin will often feel hot and irritated and have some small burns. Your skin may even peel off as you recover from radiation treatment. Some skin oozing is known to occur with skin patients too.

Another complication of radiation treatment for skin cancer concerns hair loss. When radiation is used to treat skin cancer, it will help patients recover. However, radiation has a negative side effect: it also destroys skin cell growth, which halts the production of skin hair. As a result, hair follicles will stunt in their growth and result in reduced hair growth. Over time, radiation will destroy skin and hair growth cells until the hair you have falls out. Hair loss occurs anywhere from a few weeks to a month after a person begins radiation treatment. Hair loss can either be temporary or permanent depending upon the intensity of your radiation treatment and the severity of your cancer condition.

Skin pigmentation changes, ulcers, and new cancer growth are other complications of radiation treatment for skin cancer. Radiation can cause your skin color to change to a darker color. Radiation can also lead to ulcers, open wounds and scabs on the skin. Some wounds heal and become scabs but others do not and remain open. These open wounds must be constantly monitored or bandaged so they don’t become infected. Infections will only make matters worse. New cancer growth, though unfortunate, is another possibility that must be considered as a complication after radiation treatment. Although radiation is used to treat skin cancer, radiation exposure to the skin can create a new skin cancer in the place of the old.

Because of the possible negative side effects of radiation treatment for skin cancer, it is important to discuss all possibilities with your doctor. Together you will be able to weigh the risks and benefits so you can make the choice that is best for you.

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