Treatments to prevent recurrence of breast cancer is individual these days. Back in the early 90`s the treatment seemed to be more equal for anyone with breast cancer: Surgery, chemo- and radiotherapy. If I knew back then, what I know today I hopefully would be a very capable nurse. Todays topic is Self-care during radiotherapy. It is just some advice from me as a nurse, friend and cancer patient, and my post tries to give you an insight in some of the short termed side effects of radiotherapy. I guess these advices are universally with some local adjustment, but I hope you will get proper information from your therapists before your treatment.
Self-care during radiotherapy of the breast
The radiotherapy stops the growth of the cancer cells, or kill them. The therapy will also have an impact on healthy cells, but they will gradually recover. It is very common to become tired, because your body is trying to get rid of the waste that is produced during the radiotherapy. I can`t stress this enough, to get rid of the waste it is so important to drink 1.5-2 L of water everyday. This is good self-care during radiotherapy.
I know that it is easier said than done. But if you can reduce the amount of cigarettes to a minimum that would benefit you. Smoking reduce the oxygen saturation in the cells, and cells with little oxygen react poorer to the radiation. You may put a daily walk into your schedule to increase the blood circulation. In the long term this would strengthens your immune system.
The skin may become red, itchy and sore. Some develop radiation dermatitis and ulcer. To prevent these problems you can cool the breast off after each treatment. Just wring a cloth in cold, clean water and lay the cloth over the breast. Afterwards you can let the breast air-dry, before you apply a water based moisturizer without any perfume. Note that it is not recommended to use a moisturizer right before the radiation on the treatment day. Some companies make very good moisturizers meant for people with dermatological problems, also the radiated skin. I would recommend products made by La Roche-Posay, but I assume you will find good products from other merchants too.
If your armpit needs radiation, don`t shave the armpit and use roll on or perfume. The hair will protect the skin.
You can take your shower. My hospital used a skin marker to mark the radiation field, but it bleached or almost disappeared during my showering. They constantly had to do the remarking, but I didn`t like that. The therapist came far to close to me, and with the threats of Covid19 I decided not to shower that often as I wanted. Anyway, use a shower soap without perfume and which is pH neutral. It is also important to use lukewarm water and low pressure. I would advice you not to towel your skin. Just gentle pat the skin dry or even better, air-dry before you put a water-based moisturizer on.
Personally I didn`t have a bath in the bathing tub or a swimming pool during my treatment period. Chloride makes your skin dry and itchy, and the water in the bathing tub will become polluted.
If you are having a sun bath, you have to protect the skin, for at least a year. The skin gets easily sore and sun burned, and may get pigmentation. Use colorful clothes and a high sun factor 30 to protect your skin.
To prevent a sore skin is to use clothes made of cotton or silk. I preferred cotton, because it is easier to get than silk. Rubbing will make your skin even worse. I experienced that it was unpractical to use a bra during the therapy, and it can be smart to let the air in to the breast.
If you in addition, get radiotherapy to the lymph nodes to the neck and the radiation field includes trachea, the mucosa tissue may become dry and sore. You may therefore experience dysphagia. My self-care tips for you are to avoid hot foods and drinks, spicy and sour food. You may need painkillers to ease off the pain. If you are having problems to eat I suggest you talk to the radio therapist.
During my therapy I experienced that I could not stretch my arm properly. When I should place kitchen ware in my cupboards, I had to stand on my toes to reach the shelf. My solution was actually to exercise every day. After a few days these problems was not a issue to me anymore. I have mentioned it before, but it is very important to get out of the chair and sofa and do something that gives you energy, no matter what. This is good psychological self-care during radiotherapy.
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