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7 Things To Avoid During Radiation for Breast Cancer

Medically reviewed by Hailey Pash, APN-BC
Written by Sarah Winfrey
Posted on October 2, 2023

If you’re getting ready to treat breast cancer with radiation, there’s a lot you should know. Your oncologist will probably have a list of things you should do to prepare for your first radiation cancer treatment. In addition, there are a number of things you should avoid while undergoing radiation for breast cancer. Keeping these in mind can improve your experience and decrease your risk of side effects.

Read on for more information about some things to avoid during radiation treatment for breast cancer.

1. Avoid Cutting Back on Sleep

When you’re undergoing radiation, you need as much rest as you can get. This will not only help you feel better during treatments, but it may help your body to heal. Try to get as much sleep as you can, and let your body rest when it needs to. If you feel like radiation treatment is taking a lot out of you and you’re fatigued during the day, take a nap or do another activity that you find restful and relaxing.

2. Don’t Take Medications You Haven’t Asked Your Doctor About

Some medications and supplements can make your experience with radiation better or easier. However, others can have negative interactions with your radiation therapy. For instance, antioxidant supplements may actually protect cancer cells against radiation treatment. Unless your oncology team recommends a medication or prescribes it for you, don’t take supplements or even over-the-counter medicines until you’ve gotten approval from your medical team.

3. Don’t Skip the Protein

It’s always important to eat plenty of protein, but it’s even more important when you’re undergoing radiation for breast cancer. Protein helps your body hold on to muscle. During radiation therapy, protein can help conserve your muscle mass and repair any damage the radiation may cause. If you’re having difficulty consuming solid foods during radiation treatment, the MD Anderson Cancer Center suggests meal replacement drinks as a source of protein.

4. Stop Shaving Your Armpits

Many people shave their armpits regularly because they like the aesthetics of it or they worry about body odor. However, try to avoid shaving your underarms or any area of skin undergoing radiation. As it is, radiation can damage your skin. When you shave, you remove all or part of the top layer of your skin. This can worsen the skin damage from radiation. Avoid shaving for at least a couple of weeks after treatment is finished.

5. Don’t Lay Out in the Sun

If you enjoy the sun and it’s nice outside, you might think sunbathing will make you feel better while you’re undergoing radiation. Just make sure you don’t expose any radiation sites to the sun. The sun’s rays are, technically, radiation as well. Your skin will experience plenty of radiation in the affected areas from treatment, and additional radiation from the sun may aggravate these areas of skin.

6. Don’t Skip the Skin Care Routine Your Oncologist Recommends

Your health care provider should give you some guidance and a list of products to use to care for your skin during radiation treatment. They may recommend certain moisturizers, sunscreens, and other topical agents to help your skin stay in good shape during radiation. Use the products they recommend during and after your treatments for better outcomes afterward. Your oncologist may also advise you about clothing or bras that will help reduce irritation on your skin.

7. Avoid Using Heat or Cold on Your Skin

You might feel like you want to use heat (like heating pads) or cold (like ice packs) on your skin, especially if you’re experiencing discomfort from radiation treatment. However, heat or cold may irritate your skin. Avoid anything that is too hot or cold on your skin for the duration of your treatment and for several weeks afterward. This includes hot tubs, as well as hot baths and showers.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyBCTeam is the social network for people with breast cancer and their loved ones. On MyBCTeam, more than 65,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with breast cancer.

Do you have more questions about radiation treatment? If you’ve been through radiation therapy, what did you find helpful? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on October 2, 2023
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    Hailey Pash, APN-BC , a registered nurse and advanced practice nurse, holds a Master of Science in Nursing from the University of South Alabama. Learn more about her here.
    Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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