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Radiation Burn: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Radiation therapy is one of the effective solutions used to treat various types of cancers. But it usually leads to side effects like any other cancer treatment. The symptoms vary from one person to another based on the general health, radiation therapy dose, cancer type, location, etc. However, radiation burns are one of the most common side effects of this therapy. It’s crucial to consult your medical professional about radiation burn treatments before it’s too late.

Let’s know all about radiation burns.

Causes of Radiation Burns

Radiation burns are also known as radiation dermatitis. As said, radiotherapy is an underlying cause of this condition. It’s a reaction of an external beam ionizing radiation. 

Alongside, high exposure to ultraviolet radiation and x-rays can also cause radiation dermatitis. It can also sometimes occur from exposure to radiation during indwelling urinary catheter, coronary angiography, fluoroscopy, and embolization procedures.

The radiation procedure kills cancer cells along with healthy cells in the treated area. This creates an imbalance in tissue repair and damage system as exposed skin damages faster than it can repair itself because of repeated radiation therapy. The effects of radiation dermatitis can also start appearing in the gastrointestinal tract and lungs.


Types of Radiation Dermatitis

  • Chronic radiation dermatitis:

In chronic radiodermatitis condition, the affected skin area turns thick, and the color changes to white or yellow.

  • Acute radiation dermatitis

In acute radiation dermatitis, the changes in a patient’s skin vary from reddening, peeling skin (desquamation) to ulceration and skin necrosis. 


Radiotherapy reactions usually onset after the second or third week of the procedure. In some cases, they may persist for many weeks after the final therapy phase. Symptoms of radiation burns include:

  • Wet or dry peeling skin (desquamation)
  • Itching
  • Pain
  • Ulcerations
  • Bleeding
  • Blisters
  • Skin cell death
  • Edema 

Radiation Burn Treatments

  1. Cleaning and drying the location can effectively treat radiation burns and injuries. Make sure to apply the dry bandage to cover the area.
  2. Topical creams and intravenous antibiotics may also be prescribed as radiation burn treatments to prevent patients from developing infections.
  3. If radiation burns damage the oral mucous membrane, special feeding conditions become necessary. 
  4. In ulcerated wound conditions, avascular tissues should be removed.
  5. Additionally, the surgery in which the wound is covered with healthy tissue is necessary to inhibit infection spread. Often, such radiation burns treatments may require skin grafts.


Precautionary Measures

Here’s some vital skincare regimen that you must follow to avoid radiation burns after treatment.

  • Do not use perfume and fragranced products as this can aggravate the skin.
  • Keep the treated skin moisturized to prevent cracking and itching of the skin. 
  • Wash your skin with mild soap, and do not forget to dry the area.
  • Avoid hot baths. Instead, use lukewarm water.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothes.
  • Do not rub the treated area.
  • Replace your shaving equipment with an electric trimmer.


Radiation burns can be a serious cause of concern. Hence, the doctor may even discontinue cancer treatment in the case of severe radiation burns until the skin heals. The continuation can cause blisters and dry and flaky skin. So consult your healthcare professional instantly if you see the signs.

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