Skin under breast post-radiotherapy

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Post-lumpectomy, I had 5 days of radiotherapy, finishing almost 3 weeks ago. The skin under my breast is red and itchy, which seems weird since the breast on top isn't! Is this a reaction to the radiation?

Pre-radiation, I used talc daily to keep that area dry (and read talc shouldn't be used now because of metal particles?) and I'm wondering if the use of E45 is creating a moist environment, and THAT could be the problem...

Help! And treatment suggestions please! Thank you Slight smile

  • Hi

    Thanks for getting in touch. My name is Kenny and I am one of the Cancer Information Nurse Specialists on the Macmillan Support Line. I’m sorry to hear you’re experiencing red and itchy skin under your affected breast.  As you completed your 5 treatments of  radiotherapy almost 3 weeks ago, this would be an understandable concern. 

    Radiotherapy can cause several side effects including skin reactions.  During (and immediately after radiotherapy treatment) patients are prone to developing temporary skin reactions.  Changes to the skin tend to start approximately 10-14 days after the first treatment. Initially the skin will become drier, redder and slightly irritated.  When treatment has stopped, it is not unusual to see your skin continue to become damaged and even worsen over the following 10-14 days. Radiotherapy is still effectively working for up to 2 weeks after the final treatment. Following this period, the skin should then begin to heal and start to recover within a few weeks.

    The areas that tend to be affected is often in the areas where the beam enters and leaves your body. In some instances, patients can experience a more severe reaction, depending upon the total dose of radiotherapy and the area of the body that is being treated. If this happens the skin will be very red, sore and it may become moist and feel warm.

    Any changes to your skin should be brought to the attention of your team as soon as possible. This will allow the team to assess your skin and treat accordingly.  If you only developed changes to your skin after treatment has stopped, please still try and speak to your radiotherapy team.  They can recommend medications, including painkillers, specific moisturizers/creams, and dressings, to help you be more comfortable and to manage your skin.  However, if you are unable to contact your radiotherapy team, you should try and contact your clinical nurse specialist, or your local district/ practice nurse at your GP practice.  These nurses are also trained in skin and wound care, so can offer advice and treatment if this is needed. 

    It may help to use a moisturizer on your skin (such as E45). It is important to check with the radiotherapy team what moisturizer they feel is safe and best to be using. It is usually recommended not using any products that have the ingredient sodium lauryl sulphate  as this can irritate the skin further. Any skin that becomes broken should not have regular moisturizer applied. If this happens your radiotherapy team can supply you with a lotion they feel is better to manage this.  Your radiotherapy team can often also supply you with written advice about skincare. If not available, this leaflet from the Christie's hospital may be helpful, see what you think. It offers patients skin care advice after radiotherapy treatment.

    Online communities can be useful forums, as people share their personal experiences with different creams and lotions – see what you think.  Maggies also provide an expert local care and cancer support network, in a bright and welcoming environment.  If there is one near you it could be a useful resource right now.  It may be helpful to give one of our nurses a call directly if you are needing to talk things over.  Many people find that over time they settle back into their usual routines. But it is important to remember that support is available here at MacMillan, to help you with any physical or emotional problems you may have.

    The Macmillan Support Line offers practical, clinical, financial and emotional support. You can call us free from landlines and from most mobile phone networks on 0808 808 00 00, and our lines are open 7 days a week, from 8am till 8pm.  


    Warmest Regards, 




    Clinical Information Nurse Specialist.



    Ref:  KD/GHI