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How to Prep for Post-Radiation Recovery

How to Prep for Post-Radiation Recovery

Reviewed by Jasper Clinical Board

Last updated 5/24/21


Once you know you will be doing a course of radiation treatment, it’s time to prep. Gathering some carefully chosen essentials can help you find small pockets of comfort during the treatment process. With both external and internal radiation, fatigue and side effects tend to be cumulative over the course of treatment, which means that you might feel absolutely fine for the initial days or weeks, and then suddenly feel like a total zombie. Stock your home with these comfort items ahead of time—having them right there, right when you need them is key. 
While you’re doing your aftercare shopping, don’t forget to ask your oncology team about the potential side effects associated with your treatment site and protocol, and any specific products you may need. (For example, radiation to the abdomen can cause diarrhea, and radiation to the chest can cause a cough—you’ll want to have OTC or Rx remedies on hand in case those symptoms get troublesome.)

Skin savers

Dry skin and burn-like reactions (as well as dermatologic pain and sensitivity) are, unfortunately, a very common side effect of radiation therapy. Technically not burns (though they look, feel, and are commonly referred to as such), radiation-induced skin reactions happen because as radiation goes through your skin, it damages skin cells in the process, and because radiation is a cumulative treatment, these cells often don’t have time to repair and regenerate themselves between treatments. (This is also why radiation is great at shrinking tumors, so, it’s not all bad news.) Get prepped to treat these skin reactions so that you have soothing and healing products on hand as soon as you need them, and so your skin is in the best possible shape before going into treatment. 
 
Before the start of treatment, work on getting the skin near your treatment site moisturized and free of any irritation. If you use any kind of scented soap or lotion put it on the shelf for now and replace it with ultra-gentle products like Acure's sensitive skin line (or, pro tip: shop for products designed for babies’ delicate skin). Moisturize your treatment area like it is your part time job, using a rich, unscented, therapeutic ointment like Aquaphor or Bag Balm, and stay well-hydrated. Lastly, remember that chemo can make you more sun-sensitive, so slather on sunscreen everywhere else.
 
Then, by your first treatment session, stock up on specialty products like cooler rolls, pads, and creams from Lindi and NovaGenesis, which are developed specifically for the needs of radiated skin. Having a few options on hand is a good tactic.

Home help

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In addition to treatment-site burns, radiation can cause inflammation and skin sensitivity over larger areas of your body, which can turn your formerly-favorite blanket into a scratchy nightmare. Consider where in your home (or your hotel or AirBnB, if you’re traveling to receive treatment) you’ll be spending most of your time, and cover or replace textiles with the softest stuff you can imagine, ideally made from bamboo viscose or cotton modal, two fabrics that are moisture wicking and highly breathable in addition to being extremely soft. 
 
A post-procedure pillow can be a big relief as well, particularly if you receive treatment to your head or neck. By cradling your head, the pillow will reduce the amount of friction you get from your pillowcase.

Clothes

Much like your sheets, towels, and blankets, once-comfy pants and sweaters might become itchy and uncomfortable as your skin reacts to treatment. Underwire bras, in particular, are culprits (and many clinics specifically ask patients to avoid wearing underwire for that reason).
 
For the rest of your wardrobe, look for soft materials and beware of anything tight or bunchy. Details like buttons, zippers, and even hard-to-remove tags can become downright painful on skin that’s struggling with reactivity from radiation. Consider picking up a few new things so that you can put laundry off—and, speaking of laundry, now is the time to make the switch from regular Tide to sensitive skin detergent.)

The content on this website is intended to provide the best possible information for you, but should not be considered—or used as a substitute for—medical advice. If you have questions about your diagnosis or treatment, please contact your health care provider(s). For questions or comments about this content, please email us at support@jasperhealth.com.