Radiation therapy starts
No visible changes. However, skin cells are damaged from the very first dose of radiation.
After 2 to 3 weeks of radiation therapy
The inflammatory response of the skin is activated as a response to the radiation. Damaged cells migrate to the skin surface at an increased rate.
After 4 to 5 weeks of radiation therapy
The rate of new skin cell production is increased to cope with the radiation damage. As a result, the dead skin layer becomes thicker and dry.
After 6 to 7 weeks of radiation therapy
The rate of new cell production is insufficient to replace the cells destroyed by radiation which breaks down the skin integrity. This imbalance continues until the end of the radiation therapy.
1 to 2 weeks after the end of radiation therapy
New healthy skin cells begin to resurface. However, the integrity of the skin may continue to deteriorate until the new cells repopulate the area.
The skin in the treated area may not fully recover and have the same appearance as before.
Images: Courtesy of The Princess Royal Radiotherapy Review Team, St James’s Institute of Oncology, The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. Taken from the publication “Managing Radiotherapy Induced Skin Reactions, a Toolkit for Healthcare Professionals”.