Radiotherapy for skin cancer
Radiotherapy treats cancer by using x-rays to destroy the cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells.
Radiotherapy works well for skin cancers and is particularly useful in areas where surgery might be difficult or disfiguring (such as the face), and for tumours that have penetrated deeply into the skin. However, its use isn’t recommended for young people as it can cause skin changes, which become more visible over the years.
The treatment is given in the hospital radiotherapy department. It can be given as a single treatment, but usually several doses are necessary and these are given each day over a period of one or more weeks. Your doctor will discuss your individual treatment plan with you.
Radiotherapy treatment affects only a small area of skin and will not make you feel unwell. For up to a month after treatment, the treated skin will be red and inflamed. During this time, it will look as though the treatment has made things worse rather than better. This is normal. After a further few weeks the area will dry up and form a crust or scab.
In time the scab will peel away, leaving healed skin underneath. At first, this new skin will look pinker than the skin around it. This will gradually fade and the treated area will start to look like the skin around it, although it may be slightly paler.
Radiotherapy to areas that produce hair, such as the head, can make the hair fall out in the treated area. Your hair usually grows back within 6-12 months, depending on the dose of radiotherapy and how many sessions you’ve had. Some people find that the hair loss is permanent. Your clinical oncologist can discuss with you whether your hair is likely to grow back after treatment.
Radiotherapy doesn’t make you radioactive and it’s perfectly safe for you to be around other people, including children, throughout your treatment.