Radiation damage due to radiotherapy for cancer: treatment

Radiation damage due to radiotherapy for cancer: treatment

Radiation damage: a nasty side effect when you’re already going through a hard time. For cancer, especially breast cancer, chemotherapy with radiation is a common treatment method. Due to radiation, complaints can appear during r after the radiation series. Doctors refer to this as radiation damage. The patient experiences unpleasant symptoms like red skin, sensitivity to touch, pain, itch and hotness on the skin. There are also skin conditions that appear much later, the so-called late radiation damage. This is damage to the skin and the underlying tissue, that can appear anywhere between 6 months to years after the treatment.


Severity of radiation damage

The severity of skin and tissue damage can vary from mild to serious complaints. The complaints and symptoms are slightly different than the early damage, but in both cases they include pain. The late damage often shows more swelling (oedema), hardening of the tissue and (red) skin coloration. These complaints and changes often don’t go away by themselves or can even worsen over time.

In severe cases there can be continuous intense pain, including pain to the touch, collecting of fluids in the skin, redness on the chest, shape changes and loss of arm function. The pain can get very intense and sometimes unmanageable.


Treatment of radiation damage

The pain and oedema can be treated with painkillers and so-called lymphedema therapy to prevent the swelling getting worse and causing more pain. If the complaints are more severe, doctors need to conduct further research to rule out cancerous residue of chronic chest inflammation. This type of late and severe inflammation is often hard to treat. More complicated problems may arise, like dystrophy or amputation pain, or neuralgic pain in case of nerve damage.


Treatment of radiation damage with PEA crème and a palmitoylethanolamide supplement

In a study conducted in Italy titled “Use of Palmitoylethanolamide in controlling acute side effects during radiotherapy in head and neck cancer “, results were discussed of 42 patients that received radiotherapy for cancer in the head and neck. In total 26 men and 16 women were included in this study. The conclusion of the authors was that PEA cream clearly improved the symptoms without negative side effects. Because pain is often present, on top of all the other misery, we advice to take PEA capsules as well as the PEA cream. The recommended dose is 400mg of PEA 3 times a day, together with the cream, for at least 2 months, in order to evaluate if the cell protective and pain relieving effects of PEA really decrease the symptoms. In the United States, a PEA cream is available that received the official indication of protection against radiation damage. This indication is skin conditions in its broad term, including radiation damage: Dermatosis (which includes radiation dermatitis).


Experience of patients with radiation damage

Here follows a personal account for relatability:

“Since ending radiation therapy in 2006, I’ve experienced daily nerve pain, specifically around the periosteum, for a long time. After two years this changed from a daily frequency to a ‘when you exceed your boundaries it starts bothering you again’ frequency. Since a few months it came back daily, but a little bit different. It wasn’t nerve pain anymore, as before (thank god), but something very painful. The skin was very tight (especially after reconstruction) and the limitation in movement on the ride side increased. I often felt like there was a huge bump of fluid on the side and above the prosthesis, which didn’t turn out to be the case at all. Complaints like these were more common and the plastic surgeon advised to do remedial therapy to see if this would improve the situation. I would try anything that could help so I was in. The physical therapist (also a lymphedema therapist) suggested trying a new technique. The so-called Bowen technique is a stroke technique, which uses thumb and index finger to loosen the fascia under the skin (one of the 3 layers of connective tissue). It’s similar to connective tissue massage but the movements are different and it’s a bit firmer. It’s quite unpleasant, but it doesn’t really hurt. The improvement it created with me (and apparently with others) is so significant that I wanted to share it here. I can dress myself again and I can reach higher than I could before. I will never be able to move like I used to without pain, but I am very happy with the progress of the situation. On top of my arm, she started working on a part of my shoulder and in particular in my side, which is slowly improving as well. More and more physical therapists are offering this method. I think it’s worth it to check with them, if just like me, the radiated area on your body causes a lot of pain. If you really have oedema (which I don’t) I believe you can’t do this treatment but I’m not entirely sure. But if you have tight skin with limited movement it is definitely useful.”

Also, benefits for a cancer patient can be seen in the video below:




Magri, T.Tecini, M. Franceschini, P. Sartori, L. Tomio, U.O. Radioterapia Osp. S.Chiara Trento, Use of Palmitoylethanolamide in controlling acute side effects during radiotherapy in head and neck cancer. ABSTRACT PRESENTED AT THE XX1 AIRO CONFERENCE, GENOVA, ITALY, NOVEMBER, 2011.