A qualitative analysis of acute skin toxicity among breast cancer radiotherapy patients



Objectives: One of the most common acute side effects of breast cancer radiotherapy is treatment-induced skin changes, referred to as skin toxicity. Yet no research to date has focused expressly on skin toxicity-related quality of life (QOL) in breast cancer radiotherapy patients. Therefore, our aim was to use qualitative approaches to better understand the impact of skin toxicity on QOL.

Methods: Semistructured interviews were conducted with 20 women (Stage 0–III breast cancer), during their last week of external beam radiotherapy. Each interview was transcribed verbatim, and thematic analysis was performed.

Results: Three themes were identified based on the interview responses: First, skin changes affect multiple dimensions of QOL. They cause physical discomfort, body image disturbance, emotional distress, and impair both day-to-day functioning and satisfaction with radiation treatment. Second, individual differences affect women's experiences. Generally African American women, younger women, women who are not currently in a relationship, women who are being treated during the summer, and women who are more invested in their appearance are more distressed by skin toxicity. Third, women use a variety of symptom management strategies including self-medication, complementary/alternative medicine approaches, and psychological strategies.

Conclusions: Implications of results are as follows: (1) skin toxicity affects numerous dimensions of QOL, and assessment approaches and psychosocial interventions should address this; (2) individual differences may affect the experience of skin toxicity and should be considered in treatment and education approaches; and (3) participants' own creativity and problem-solving should be used to improve the treatment experience. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.