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Biafine Cream May Reduce Skin Problems From Radiation Therapy (dateline October 4, 2000)

A new study finds that biafine, a cosmetic skin cream, may reduce skin problems for cancer patients who undergo radiation as part of their treatment. While many breast cancer patients only experience minor, temporary side effects to radiation (such as tenderness or swelling), some patients experience burning, reddening, and peeling. According to the researchers, biafine may reduce disruptions and delays during radiation therapy due to skin problems.

In the study, which was presented at a meeting of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Edmonton, Canada in September 2000, researchers studied radiation therapy patients who used the biafine cream over a 5-week period of radiation. After 5 weeks of radiation, 83% of the patients developed only minor radiation-induced skin problems (such as mild redness, swelling, or peeling).

A month after radiation therapy was complete, 30% of the patients had no evidence of skin toxicity after using the biafine cream. Approximately 37% of the patients had only mild skin problems. However, 28% of the patients had moderate skin problems four weeks after radiation therapy and a few patients experienced severe radiation dermatitis.

According to researcher Dr. Ewa Szumacher, a radiation oncologist at the Toronto-Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre, biafine cream appears to protect the skin against radiation-induced toxicity. In the study, none of the patients had to delay or disrupt radiation treatments due to skin problems. Normally, it takes approximately one month for the skin to heal after radiation therapy is completed, according to Dr. Szumacher. Recovery may be longer if the patient has both radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Temporary side effects to radiation therapy for breast cancer patients include:

  • Fatigue
  • Neutropenia (reduction in white blood cells)
  • Breast swelling or tenderness
  • Feeling of heaviness in the breast
  • Sunburn-like appearance of the breast skin
  • Loss of appetite

Other actions that may help reduce pain from skin reactions include the following:

  • Avoid any additional sun exposure to the area
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing, preferably cotton or other material that "breathes"
  • Use warm or tepid water when bathing, rather than hot water
  • Avoid wearing constricting bras (if a bra must be worn at all)
  • Lotions or powders on the treated area are generally not recommended

Specific creams should be recommended by the radiation oncologist or his/her nurse. Often, there should not be any substance on the skin that could affect the radiation treatment or lead to a more serious burn injury (such as oil). If a patient needs relief, she may use cool compresses (not cold or ice packs, as that may cause additional skin damage). Patients should talk to their physicians about soothing lotions or creams that may be allowed between (not during) treatment sessions.

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