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Radiodermatitis, also known as radiation dermatitis or radiation burn, is something many cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy treatments will experience. According to the American Society for Radiation Oncology, nearly 75% of oncology patients are recommended to receive radiation therapy as part of curative or palliative care. Of those cancer patients who undergo radiation, 95% will experience some degree of radiation burn. Up to 87% of cancer patients will experience moderate to severe radiodermatitis during their treatments, or after radiotherapy treatments cease.
Fortunately, there are some key things you can do to minimize the damage from radiation therapy. This article will share with you four of the best and most healing substances from nature to keep radiation burn away, or at least keep the damage to a minimum.
What is the Goal of Radiotherapy?
The main goal of radiation treatment (radiotherapy) is to deliver a specific dose of radiation to the site of a cancer tumor and, in so doing, damage the DNA of cancer cells. This is meant to impair cancer cell growth and trigger tumor cell death. The other objective of radiotherapy is to keep damage to normal, healthy tissue to a minimum.
However, healthy cells in the radiation field are often damaged by radiation exposure, resulting in radiation dermatitis. Under normal circumstances, healthy tissues are quite capable of repairing themselves. But because radiation exposure is repeated over a long period of time, this compromises the ability of healthy tissues to repair before the next dose of radiation occurs.
Radiation Burn Symptoms
Radiodermatitis can be a painful condition, and it can occur up to 90 days after radiotherapy begins. For some, the discomfort can be excruciating. Researchers have discovered that even moderate radiodermatitis is associated with decreased quality of life. Moderate to severe radiodermatitis also often involves delaying or modifying radiotherapy treatments which could compromise the effectiveness of the treatment.
Symptoms of radiation burn can include:
- reddening of the skin (known as erythema)
- swelling and inflammation
- skin dryness and shedding
- itchy skin
- loss of hair in area being treated
- oozing and/or ulceration of skin
- blistering of skin
- fibrosis (thickening and scarring of connective tissue in skin)
- pigmentation changes
- necrosis (premature death of skin cells)
Here’s the part the radiation oncologist probably will NOT tell you… the effects of radiotherapy can occur anywhere from 90 days after completion of treatment to years after, as a direct result of permanent damage to the dermal layer of the skin.
The Problem With What Most Oncologists Recommend for Radiation Dermatitis
Most radiation oncologists and oncology nurses will have recommendations to ease the symptoms of radiodermatitis. Unfortunately, the products usually recommended are filled with toxic ingredients − the very ingredients that put us at a higher risk for cancer in the first place. For example, let’s examine a product called Biafine, the subject of a research study published in 2000.
- Purified water – Harmless.
- Liquid paraffin – Reasonably harmless but is derived from the petroleum industry.
- Ethylene glycol monostearate – A clear liquid used as an automotive anti-freeze, coolant, for de-icing, and in brake fluids; also in photographic development solutions. Considered a “moderate hazard” by the Environmental Working Group (“EWG”).
- Stearic acid – Considered a “low hazard” by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). It comes from animal or vegetable fats. If animal derived, the fat is where toxins like pesticides the animal encountered in its lifetime are stored.
- Propylene glycol – A clear liquid used as an automotive anti-freeze, coolant, for de-icing, and in brake fluids; also in photographic development solutions. Considered a “moderate hazard” by the EWG.
- Paraffin wax – Reasonably harmless but is derived from the petroleum industry.
- Squalane – Generally derived from shark liver oil, potentially toxic due to increasing amounts of heavy metal contamination in our oceans.
- Avocado oil – Probably the only good ingredient here, other than water.
- Trolamine/sodium alginate – Commonly prescribed for wound repair. The Material Safety Data Sheet indicates it may cause irritation to eyes. For the skin, prolonged or repeated contact may dry skin and cause irritation. Inhaling it could cause chemical pneumonitis.
- Triethanolamine – A surfactant or pH adjuster, considered a “moderate hazard” by EWG, which lists it as a human skin toxicant or allergen, and a human immune and respiratory toxicant or allergen.
- Cetyl palmitate – A waxy oil derived from a sperm whale or from dolphins. See comment for squalene above.
- Methylparaben (sodium salt) – Used as a preservative and found in many deodorants, lotions, and skin care products, it is a known endocrine disruptor and estrogen mimicker (known as a xenoestrogen). Studies show that parabens can influence proliferation, migration, and invasive properties of human breast cancer cells. One researcher found parabens in 99 percent of human breast tissue samples. Parabens are definitely causing problems for our health.
- Sorbic acid (potassium salt) – An antimicrobial and preservative agent, these days it is usually created from synthetic compounds. EWG classifies it as a human skin toxicant or allergen.
- Propylparaben (sodium salt) – See info at methylparaben.
- Fragrance – Synthetic fragrances are known to cause problems for health. They are usually comprised of an undisclosed mixture of various chemicals known to be human immune system toxicants or allergens.
A Natural Protocol for Radiodermatitis
A great way to minimize the effects from radiotherapy is to protect the skin and give it some very particular nourishment. This can be done both prior to commencement of radiotherapy, as well as after each session. At the same time, it is important not to protect the tissues so much that it interferes with the radiotherapy goal of killing cancer cells.
Many radiation oncologists will not let you use anything on the skin while undergoing radiotherapy treatments − either before or after treatments. This is due to the fear that what you put on your skin may impede the radiotherapy. Putting nothing on the skin, however, can lead to unnecessary pain and suffering.
The following four things will in most cases protect you quite well from the majority of radiodermatitis symptoms and shouldn’t hamper the radiotherapy process (although always seek guidance from a qualified healthcare provider). Results are not guaranteed, of course, but if this protocol is followed rigorously, any symptoms should be minimal.
- Organic calendula officinalis extract. A 2004 French study compared calendula officinalis with trolamine (one of the ingredients listed in the Biafine above) for radiodermatitis. The researchers found the calendula to be better than the trolamine for the prevention of acute dermatitis in postoperative patients undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer. A 2006 Japanese study also revealed that calendula officinalis has anti-cancer properties. Doesn’t it make much more sense to use an ingredient with anti-cancer properties than something known to be toxic and to disrupt hormones?
- Organic aloe vera gel. The gel from the aloe vera plant has long been known for its burn healing properties, and it is a natural antiseptic. Native populations where the plant grows have used it for burns and wound healing for centuries. You can snap off one of the fleshy leaves of the plant and use the gel that oozes out, but it is much easier to use a commercially prepared organic aloe vera gel. Try to find one with 98-99% aloe vera gel and make sure it doesn’t have any harmful ingredients (which is why organic is recommended). In addition to its burn healing properties, 2016 Chinese research found that aloe vera polysaccharides induce autophagy (a self-degrading process for normal cells, absent or declining in cancer cells) in pancreatic carcinoma cells, both alone and together with radiation. Researchers stated that autophagic cell death “might be one of the mechanisms producing a radiosensitizing effect.” So it appears that aloe vera polysaccharides, in addition to healing burns, may also assist radiotherapy to do its job better.
- Organic lavender essential oil. Lavender essential oil is excellent for healing burns and wounds. It is known to have been used for this for a century, and probably much longer. During World War I, lavender was used to treat soldiers with burns in military hospitals. Lavender has natural anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain relieving), and anti-tumor properties.
- Organic coconut and/or hemp seed oil – Awesome for helping to heal burns, the fatty acids and antioxidants in coconut oil are also excellent for adding moisture and protection to the skin. 2008 Indian research confirms that coconut oil helped to heal partial thickness burn wounds in rats. Organic hemp seed oil is also amazing for skin and wound healing. It has over 540 different phytochemicals that give it anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-cancer, and neuroprotective properties. You can use coconut or hemp seed oil interchangeably.
How to Use These 4 Healing Substances
One to Two Weeks Prior to the Start of Radiotherapy Treatments:
Use the four items listed above, as described below in Method of Use. Do this once per day.
After Radiotherapy Commences:
ONLY AFTER each radiotherapy session, use the four items listed above, as described below in Method of Use. Do this twice daily but not within one hour prior to radiotherapy treatment. In other words, it is best done after the radiotherapy session is completed. If there is time, do it later in the day as well or just prior to going to bed. If your radiotherapy treatments are scheduled late in the day, do the protocol as soon as you get home, and then again next morning (after showering or bathing) but not within one hour prior to radiotherapy sessions.
After Radiotherapy Ceases:
Continue using the four items as described, once daily, for two weeks after cessation of radiotherapy treatments (and longer if you desire).
Method of Use:
- Apply Organic Calendula Extract. Using a cotton ball soaked with calendula extract, apply liberally to area. It will soak into the skin and should leave no residue.
- Next apply Organic Aloe Vera Gel: Apply a sufficient quantity of gel to saturate the tissue.
- Then apply Lavender Oil diluted with Coconut or Hemp Seed Oil. Once the aloe vera gel has soaked in, apply 1-2 drops of organic lavender essential oil, diluted in 1 teaspoonful of organic coconut or hemp seed oil.
The difference between using this protocol and not using it is quite remarkable. The author is a breast cancer coach and for those clients who followed this protocol before and after radiotherapy sessions, there has been little to no burning of breast tissue and no other side effects from radiation treatments aside from fatigue.
Damage to the heart and/or lungs is always possible when receiving radiotherapy and this protocol will not protect against that. Please ask your radiologist for information on how to protect your heart and lungs. For instance, for breast cancer you might be able to have the newer prone (breast dangling) style of radiotherapy. There is also a cardioprotective technique called deep inspiration breath hold (DIBH) for those with cancer in the left breast. The patient takes a deep breath while radiotherapy is being delivered and holds this breath. This fills the lungs with air and moves the heart farther away from the radiotherapy field.
4 Helpful Tips During Radiation Treatments for Cancer
- Make sure to use a mild, organic soap or shower gel when washing your body.
- Keep the irradiated area out of the sun while you are going through radiotherapy.
- Wear loose fitting clothing made from cotton or other natural fibers.
- Try to avoid chlorinated water whenever possible, both in swimming pools and in shower water.
Other Beneficial Essential Oils for Radiodermatitis
Any of the following essential oils may be beneficial for topical use while receiving radiation treatment. Dilute all of these first with a quality carrier oil such as hemp seed or coconut oil.
Frankincense – oxygenates tissue; helps to reduce any scarring
Helichrysum – helps to reduce scarring; excellent for cell regeneration
Tea tree oil – especially if skin has broken as it helps to kill any bacteria and reduce chance of infection; relieves pain
Roman Chamomile – anti-inflammatory, antiseptic
Peppermint – its cooling menthol and natural anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties will soothe burned skin tissues
Essential Oil Purity Matters
If you intend to use essential oils for health improvement, know how your essential oils are extracted and where they come from. You especially want to ensure that the plants utilized have not been sprayed with pesticides, or other harmful chemicals and are the highest quality essential oils available. It is best to avoid any essential oils from companies that do not advise how the plants for their oils are grown.
Distilling methods are important too. Some companies use harmful chemicals to extract the oils from plants, and rather than healing, these oils can be harmful to health. It pays to do a little homework on the company creating the oils you intend to buy.
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Radiodermatitis is something many cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy treatments will experience.
Of those cancer patients who undergo radiation, 95% will experience some degree of radiation burn.
Even moderate radiodermatitis is associated with decreased quality of life.
Symptoms of radiation burn can include:
- Reddening of the skin (known as erythema)
- Swelling and inflammation
- Skin dryness and shedding
- Itchy skin
- Loss of hair in area being treated
- Oozing and/or ulceration of skin
- Blistering of skin
- Pigmentation changes
4 things that may protect you from radiodermatitis symptoms:
- Organic calendula officinalis extract
- Organic aloe vera gel
- Organic lavender essential oil
- Organic coconut and/or hemp seed oil
Other beneficial essential oils for radiodermatitis:
- Tea tree oil
- Roman Chamomile
Thank you. I did not have any access to this kind of information when I had the disastrous misfortune to receive radiation ‘treatment 2 years ago.
following a left breast masectomy, Iam so relieved to have found this information. The rough and clumsy treatment for radiation treatment i received in UKRAINE has to be seen to be believed. If you saw this occur you would have run a mile and still be running! Unbeknown and never discussed with me before the operation a slightly swollen lymph gland was removed without my permission etc. It was like taking the filter out of your car.what happens you flood the engine Talk about an oncologist surgeon This by the armpit and prior to this never painful or any trouble,Which although it maybe by the by and certainly after the fact..All the time the breast lump was growing and yes it did get large due to my not knowing what I should be doing to heal myself….in all that time I had no pain whatsoever..I do not understand why.this should be..I was not and am not taking any medication…Having said all that have some dry ough skin around my armpit and yes I have calendula oil and two balconies full of aloe vera plants growing like crazy.. I use aloe vera in my juices.
Hello Family and a Belated Happy Valentines Day; Thank you Ty and contributors for this information. About 25 years ago a nurse who went radiation therapy took large doses of vitamin C and she said that the burns were greatly reduced. You might Body dowse to see the exact amount you should take, while body building I took 3000mg just for maintenance. Doctor Gifford Jones has more info. on Vit. C and others. Loving Blessings. Yourself called alan.
Silvia Logan says
I find that radiation therapy even causes a person more cancer. My mother did radiation therapy many times and it certainly did not cure her cancer. I wish that hyperthermia therapy, immunotherapy, viral therapy, and ozone therapy be used to cure all types and stages of cancer instead of chemotherapy and radiation therapy because they attack cancer cells and leave healthy cells alone and many people have done much better with those alternative therapies than those conventional ones.
Also try homeopathic “X-ray”.
Rosa Sepulveda says
how about what to do after the damage is done? I have scar tissues, and recently had a bowel obstruction, that resulted in surgery. how can I break apart the adhesions?
Serrapeptase is wonderful at dissolving internal scar tissue. Available online. Not to be used 2 weeks before or after operation as it thins the blood.
I am so glad that i declined radiation therapy after my hysterectomy due to uterine cacinosarcoma. There was no cancer found in the lymph nodes, cervical, omentum etc. I was pressured to have surgery, chemo and radiotherapy by at least 5 doctors after diagnosis so it was a difficult decision to arrive at. To the radiation oncs credit she was very upfront about the potential after effects including a secondary cancer down the road plus the fact that having rad would NOT prolong my life (more likely shorten IMO) . I asked for three months to think about it but she wanted to know ASAP before her vacation started in a couple of weeks. All the arrangements were made and I pulled out the day before the first session. My entire pelvic area was to be radiated potentially creating untold damage to my bowels, bladder, bones and so on. 18 months have passed since then with no sign of recurrence. I’m so thankful to you Ty. I watched the whole TTAC series which was very empowering helping give me the strength to take control.
Dr. Myers says
I am a Radiation Oncologist who specializes in breast cancer treatment. I want to thank you for the great work you are doing. I will validate what you have noted above as I have been giving my patients free samples of calendula for five years and have appreciated seeing very infrequent grade 2 or higher skin toxicity.
(Please consider changing our title from radiologist (doctor who reads x-rays) to Radiation Oncologist as this seems to confuse patients)
Dave Johnson says
Hello Dr. Meyers
Can you give us more information on the calendula extract. Is it scream or tincture or aqueous based – what brand could you recommend ?
Thanks a lot
Dave Johnson says
Just a question about the Calendula Extract – is this an extract in alcohol or an aqueous extract ? We have been told that we should not apply alcohol to the skin during radiotherapy. Could you recommend a brand we should look for ?
Thanks so much
kathleen johnson says
Hello, My father is using the receipt for after-radiation help with burning and damage. He’s having a hard time completing all the steps – and asked if he could mix the first two steps together and apply them at the same time and then do the lavender/coconut oil last? Or, can he mix all three steps and make just one application to the skin? He has rectal cancer and its very hard for him to apply.
Thank you for your help! Kathleen
I did this protocol with my breast radiation and am happy to report that I didn’t have any burning. There was a slight bit of redness but it was so minor that it didn’t bother me at all. My doctors were amazed but I didn’t tell them what I did because they insisted I not use anything they didn’t recommend.
Hey… you did not say ‘What protocol’ you did. Please explain, others need to know what to do to not burn. Thanks.
Ting Ting Chan says
I am glad i read this my doctor also said the same. I will continue to use skin healing serum i made to prevent any burnings.
Surprised colloidal silver products were not mentioned. Burn patients are commonly wrapped in silver infused bandages with great success in healing. Curad bandaids has an over the counter product containing colloidally infused materials, and I have treated many burns with ‘silver water’ topically and internally. Major results within 24 hours with zero toxicity.
Wondering if this would apply to skin cancer.
GENE VERGIN says
What if the radiation is used in our mouth?
We don’t sell it (use it in a lot of our products) – organic aloe vera gel is no problem to drink, you can use that in your mouth for burns.
Marian Proctor says
My concern is that I am an African-American woman who had radiation therapy for 22 days and my breast and arm pit are black (not tanned). I used a cream for the burns and that part is now healed. However, the discoloration is horrible. Can anyone recommend something to help get my color back to normal as possible.
Hi these treatments are for the outer skin what happens to the organ or organ that have received radiation for eg the uterus and cervix how to get rid of the damage or burn thatsvdone to that thank you
Melissa C. says
Hello. I am a licensed aesthetician with oncology training. I found this article to coincide beautifully with the teachings I received in Colorado. I have a question regarding an additional oil that I have come to love for client massage, acne and scarring reduction-Organic Castor Oil. I have rarely come across readings and or information about this amazing oil. I personally love it as a barrier to harsh climates, reduction in inflammation and encourages blood flow.
Can you offer your professional opinion on this product? Would it be a safe and effective alternative and or addition to calendula, hemp, etc.. to prevent radiation dermatitis and or used post care?
You missed #5 in the list for burns…
Organic rose hip oil is also excellent for burns, scars, stretch marks. Sourced from Chile or Bulgaria. Rich in essential fatty acids.
My mum suffered twice with breast cancer and now my sister-in-law.
Customer Success says
Thanks for sharing, Peter!
We’re praying for your sister-in-law’s full healing!!
Julie Furlong says
I read the article just near the end of my radiotherapy following breast cancer surgery. I had already developed the burning red/purple and itching skin and i had been using the hospital-recommended aqueous cream 3 times daily. I didn’t quite believe in the powers of natural healing oils, but thought I had nothing to lose… So I purchased organic Calendula, Lavendar, Hemp and Coconut oils and used them liberally at least 3 times per day (applied by hand, changing the mixtures regularly). Within 10 days my skin had returned to normal, no evidence of radiation burn at all, and my surgery scars started to heal and smooth our very rapidly. I cannot believe how powerful these oils are, I am a convert to natural healing powers from now on!! Thank you, thank you.
Customer Success says
Wonderful to hear Julie! We are so glad that the oils helped and that your skin is doing better now.
After reading what Julie said above I’m going to buy all 4 ingredients listed in this article. The nurse of my RO said I couldn’t use coconut or hempseed oil as they’d lock in moisture. I remember thinking, “isn’t that a good thing”, but then wondered if the radiation would change that. I’m starting treatment on the 28th for DCIS and am going to beat these side effects. If there’s any suggestions to fight fatigue I’d love to hear them.
Wild orange essential oil. I used it as aromatherapy and it really picked me up. I kept a little bottle at work. On really bad days I would put a drop on my wrists and run it in. I was amazed how well it worked.
Can it be Organic Calendula Oil or does it have to be the extract? I ordered a bottle of the oil and didn’t want to open it if I need to get something different.
Jenny Williamson says
My sister is about to start radiation to her back that will result in her osepohagus being burned. Is there anything she can take to reduce / prevent the discomfort? I am not sure what can be ingested other than the aloe vera juice.
Jill Peters says
Just about to finish radiotherapy and no signs of skin discolouration or burning. I started the Calendular, Aloe Vera, Lavender application a week before treatment and they are doing their job. (Hints – after contacting Marnie I apply the lavender neat instead of in coconut oil, and I get topical Calendular from a naturopath.) Also when feeling heat I put on cold compress with some salt in the water. Works so well I always fall asleep when I do it. Recently I started to itch outside the area I treat so I am extending the Calendula. I recommend this protocol to anyone undergoing radiotherapy.
Antonia Howell says
What brands did you use in each of the 4 products?
Holly Schmid says
I found this article while searching for a booklet to give to my Radiation Oncologist and her staff. The protocol you recommend is exactly what I have been using. However, my doctor and her staff are very uninformed. I am in the skin care business and when they suggested (after 3 weeks of radiation) that I use AquaPhor, I told them what I was using. Everyone was stunned. No one ever suggested any pretreatment protocol or during treatment protocol. I have a very highly respected doctor and yet she is uninformed. It’s very discouraging. Please tell me if you have a pamphlet or booklet that I could give them, otherwise I will print your article. Thanks so much for this concise information.
Customer Support says
Hi Holly –
Thank you for sharing this with us. We don’t have a pamphlet so you are welcome to print think article (with credit shown) to share with your oncologist and team.
Praying for your complete healing and continued health.
I have spent the day helping a friend look for organic calendula extract essential oil. All we seem to be able to find is one diluted in a carrier oil (sunflower)
Is this ok to use? Or does anyone know where we can order some from (in Europe) ?
She wants to get going on this as soon as possible as she is due for her second op in two weeks time, followed by 25 rounds of radiotherapy.
Thanks for your help
Vitamin shoppe have organic cold press calendula oil
Kristine Ryan says
Thanks so much for the information my husband is soon to start radiation therapy on his neck and tongue and im having trouble findind calendula officinalis extract i can find organic flowers and creams with the ingredient or in alcohol to drink could you please assist. Could i soak the flowers? Your response would be greatly appreciated kind regards Kristine
There’s a vegetable version of squalane called phytosqualane that is derived from olive oil although it will appear in the INCI list as squalane. Squalene is naturally present in vegetables as well. Stearic acid is derived from palm oil and used in ecocert organic natural skincare as well. Essential oil do wonders in carrier oils they’re the best try blue tansy and yarrow copaiba balm and benjoin resin as well they smell wonderful and are soothing and regenerating as well but in low dosages.
I greatly appreciate this information but it seems it is for external cancers. What is suggested for Uterine/cervical cancer with radiation treatments?
This healing is needed for internal use. Thanks so much.
Customer Service says
Hi Linda, here is a great article by Dr. V that includes five substances for your overall health recovery toolbox after radiation: https://thetruthaboutcancer.com/radiation-detox/. One of our featured Cancer Survivors, Cheryl Buck, also discusses the power of Gerson Therapy in her healing journey here: https://thetruthaboutcancer.com/cancer-survivor-story-cheryl-buck/. We hope this helps!
I found this while researching what to use for my breast cancer radiation treatments. I am going to follow the instructions and see how it goes.
I wonder if these would also help with post ops too as the skin gets itchy and irritated like sun burnt and very sensitive in the armpit and surrounding areas..? Can anyone weight in on this?