We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Radiation Burn?

Marjorie McAtee
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
Our promise to you
The Health Board is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At The Health Board, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Radiation burn, also known as radiation dermatitis, is a skin reaction that can occur as a side effect of radiation therapy for cancer. Skin damage from radiation can range from mild to severe. In many cases, it is limited to redness, swelling, and pain akin to that of a sunburn. In more severe cases, skin can begin to blister and peel, and some patients have even reported blackening and flaking of the burn area. Treatment for radiation burn generally involves medicated topical creams, antibiotics, painkillers and cold compresses, though tissue that has been badly damaged by radiation may need to be debrided to prevent infection and speed recovery.

Skin problems are considered common during radiation therapy, since skin is believed to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of radiation. This therapy is typically used to direct doses of radiation to internal cancers, but it is usually directed externally through the skin. The effects of radiation burn usually begin within the first two or three weeks of radiation therapy. Radiation burns sometimes worsen as treatment continues, but they often remain in a stable condition after the first few weeks. Once treatment is discontinued, radiation burns may heal within a few weeks, though they usually require some form of medical intervention.

A mild radiation burn is said to look and feel like a sunburn. The skin generally becomes faintly reddened, although in some patients, it can take on a darker brown color. As skin damage progresses, the radiation burn may become more inflamed and more painful. Swelling can sometimes be significant. Hair loss can occur in the treatment area as well.

Severe radiation dermatitis may cause blistering and peeling of the skin. In the worst cases, skin may blacken before flaking off. Blistering and peeling are considered more likely in areas where skin folds occur, such as beneath the breasts. Radiation burn in these areas can cause open wounds and sores that may be likely to get infected.

Topical ointments and creams are often prescribed to treat radiation burns, and cold compresses can be applied to relieve the pain of radiation burns. Painkillers may be prescribed when the pain is severe. If severe skin damage occurs during radiation therapy, the area may be debrided to remove any dead tissue. Removing dead tissue from the burn area usually decreases the risk of serious infection and can support rapid healing.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Marjorie McAtee
By Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee, a talented writer and editor with over 15 years of experience, brings her diverse background and education to everything she writes. With degrees in relevant fields, she crafts compelling content that informs, engages, and inspires readers across various platforms. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a skilled member of any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On Sep 05, 2014

@Pippinwhite -- Wow. That's sad about your cousin. Glad she made it through the procedures!

I know my friend's doctor recommended she stock up on aloe vera gel and he said she needed to apply it after every treatment. She said she thought it helped keep the burning to a minimum and helped her skin heal.

I remember seeing pictures of victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and how many of them were burned by the radiation from the bombs. A sober reminder of what they can do, and how much power we have in our hands.

By Pippinwhite — On Sep 04, 2014

Radiation burns do look like sunburns, but they're more painful, according to people I know who have had radiation.

Fortunately, radiation technology has improved a lot and doctors can focus the radiation in a much narrower field, so not nearly as much skin has to be affected.

My cousin was born with a tumor on her kidney and had to have radiation when she was six weeks old. That was in 1961. Not only did she get skin problems from it, it probably also weakened her spine and caused scoliosis. And messed up her pancreas. She has been diabetic since she was 17.

Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee, a talented writer and editor with over 15 years of experience, brings her diverse background and education to everything she writes. With degrees in relevant fields, she crafts compelling content that informs, engages, and inspires readers across various platforms. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a skilled member of any content creation team.
The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.