How To Protect Your Skin During Radiation Treatment for Breast Cancer
I am frequently asked by those just about to begin radiation treatment for breast cancer what cream or lotion or ointment they can use to minimize the harsh effects of the radiation on their skin. That’s a great question and I’m always glad that they know this is important. I will answer it shortly. First it’s important to know what the possible side effects of radiation are.
The Skin Problems You May Encounter With Radiation
Taking care of your skin during and after radiation treatment is really important. Some of the skin changes that can be experienced during radiation treatment include redness, itching, dryness, swelling and peeling. In some extreme cases there can also be blistering (as with a sunburn), infections, fever and swelling – these symptoms should always be reported to your doctor.
Most of these effects do go away within weeks but sometimes people are left with long-term problems with their skin, such as fibrosis and/or pigmentation changes. For those who have had mastectomies, followed by radiation, followed by breast reconstruction with tissue expanders, there can be real problems. If nothing is done to manage the side effects of the radiation therapy, the skin can often be quite damaged and this makes the tissue expanders and silicone implants used with breast reconstruction more difficult and uncomfortable because radiated skin can lose its elasticity and be tight and dry.
What NOT To Use
Some women are recommended to have a product such as Eucerin Aquaphor healing ointment. Now I don’t wish to denigrate a company’s product but no one should be putting this stuff on their breast (or anywhere else for that matter). Here is the list of ingredients:
Petrolatum, Mineral oil, Ceresin, Lanolin Alcohol, Panthenol, Glycerin, Bisabolol. These look pretty harmless unless you know something about these ingredients.
Petrolatum is a by-product of the petroleum industry, it’s full of xenoestrogens (environmental estrogens) that put us at a higher risk for breast cancer. No way you should be using anything with petrolatum in the ingredients. Mineral oil is no better, It’s an extremely cheap and commonly used byproduct from crude oil and is a known xenoestrogen. For more information on xenoestrogens, see my article Protect Yourself From Xenoestrogens and Estrogen Dominance.
Ceresin is a wax derived from ozocerite, a naturally occurring fossil wax found near soft shale. That sounds safe, right? Maybe not. This ingredient has been shown to cause skin irritation and sensitization in some people. You can check it out on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database (reference below).
Lanolin is a wax obtained from the sebaceous gland of sheep. Years ago, lanolin was a good thing and has been used down through the centuries for moisturizing the skin and for softening leather. Sounds nice and natural, right? But there are hidden problems with lanolin. For one thing, lanolin is removed from sheepskin and wool with chemical scouring. Also, sheep are routinely dipped in pesticides and chemicals such as organochlorine, organophosphate, and pyrethroid to kill parasites. You can be sure that these toxic chemicals will concentrate in the lanolin – studies show that these chemicals bind to lanolin because of its waxy consistency and become concentrated in the lanolin. No way do you want to use anything with lanolin in it on your irradiated tissues.
Panthenol is derived from vitamin B-5. I have no problem with this ingredient, as far as I know, it is a safe ingredient.
Glycerin is chemically produced by combining water and fat, usually from vegetables, and while that sounds nice and natural (you can guess what’s coming!), these days it is generally made from GMO (genetically modified) vegetables such as corn and beets, and people are beginning to have problems with this. Sometimes glycerin is derived from the jatropha plant and back in 2012 the FDA sent out a notification that oils, glycerin, and proteins, if derived from the jatropha plant, may contain toxins. Glycerin actually draws moisture from the lower layers of the skin and holds it on the surface, thus drying the skin from the inside out and that won’t help you during radiotherapy.
Bisabolol is a plant-based chemical derived from certain essential oils. In this formulation it is probably not organically grown, so may be another source of toxic chemicals.
Parabens are chemical preservatives. Be sure not to use anything that contains propylparaben or methylparaben, these are usually the last ingredient in the list, they are associated with breast tumors. Prof Darbre at Reading University in the UK has been studying the effect of parabens on breast tissue for many years and has observed that 99% of human breast tissue samples collected contained parabens. Her most recent research appears below. Parabens are causing major problems for our breast health.
You Have To Be A Label Reader!
All of this just shows why I teach that you MUST become a label reader when it comes to your body products and cosmetics. You have to know what’s in them, otherwise you may just be putting yourself at risk for breast cancer (or risk of recurrence).
I am frequently asked for my recommendation on what to do about keeping skin healthy and protected against the burning experienced during radiotherapy so I am happy to share that here. Although I chose not to have radiotherapy, a number of my coaching clients have used this protocol and it works wonderfully, includes no toxic chemicals nor (most importantly) anything that would hamper the radiotherapy process.
Avoid The Burned Boob! Marnie’s Skin Protection Protocol During Radiotherapy Treatments
Two weeks prior to commencement of radiotherapy, follow this routine daily. Once radiotherapy commences, follow this routine twice per day, but making sure not to do this within an hour prior to radiotherapy appointment.
- Using a cotton pad soaked in organic calendula officinalis extract like this one, apply liberally to area to be irradiated. It will soak in and should leave no residue that you need to wash off.
- Once that has soaked in, then apply a sufficient quantity of organic aloe vera gel (this is a good brand). Saturate tissue with this.
- Lastly, dilute 1-2 drops of a medicinal grade lavender essential oil (organic is best if you can get it) in one teaspoonful of organic coconut oil (this is a good brand) or organic hempseed oil (this is a great one) and apply that to the area.
- Repeat again at bedtime or the next morning, but not within one hour of the next radiotherapy session.
So to recap – two weeks prior to commencement of radiotherapy, you are following this protocol once per day. Once radiotherapy commences, you are using the calendula extract, the aloe vera gel, and the lavender oil mixed with coconut or hempseed oil twice per day (or more as your skin requires). Continue this procedure on the weekends as well and continue doing this for a couple of weeks after the treatments end. The difference between following this protocol and not doing it is quite stunning.
Why does it work so well?
The calendula extract helps to heal the skin and works better than the commonly prescribed remedies, and it has anti-cancer properties. The aloe vera gel is well known for its burn healing benefits, plus one study showed it may also assist radiotherapy to do its job better. The lavender oil helps to heal burns and wounds and has natural anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, pain relieving and anti-cancer properties. Coconut oil helps to heal burns and keeps the skin well nourished with its essential fatty acids. Hempseed oil has pain relieving, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-cancer, anti-fungal and neuroprotective properties.
Other tips – keep the area out of the sun while you are going through radiotherapy. Wear loose fitting cotton or natural fiber clothing. Avoid chlorine whenever you can, both in swimming pools and in shower water (use a good shower filter like these).
For more information on the healing effects of calendula, see my article The Benefits of Calendula Officinalis for Radiodermatitis. Also learn how curcumin can help you at this time: Going Through Radiotherapy For Breast Cancer? Better Take Curcumin
Relationship between everyday use cosmetics and female breast cancer — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24694726
Parabens can enable hallmarks and characteristics of cancer in human breast epithelial cells: a review of the literature with reference to new exposure data and regulatory status — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25047802
Phase III Randomized Trial of Calendula Officinalis Compared with Trolamine for the Prevention of Acute Dermatitis During Irradiation for Breast Cancer – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15084618
Anti-inflammatory, Anti-tumor-promoting, and Cytotoxic Activities of Constituents of Marigold (Calendula Officinalis) Flowers – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17190444
Radio Sensitizing Effect of Aloe Polysaccharide on Pancreatic Cancer Bxpc-3 Cells – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27393447
Burn Wound Healing Property of Cocos Nucifera: an Appraisal – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2792613/
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