Background Cosmetic changes are to be expected after radiotherapy for skin tumours.
Objectives This study aimed to answer the questions: How frequent are cosmetic changes after soft X-ray therapy? Do treatment parameters, tumour thickness, localization and size of the irradiated field have a major influence? Were patients irritated by the visual appearance of the irradiated field?
Methods In total, 2474 examinations of 1149 irradiated fields were performed.
Results Hypopigmentation was found in 64.7% of examinations more than 90 days after therapy, teleangiectases in 43.1%, erythema in 24.8%, and hyperpigmentation in 16.8%. The frequency of hypopigmentation, teleangiectases and hyperpigmentation increased with time from X-ray exposure; more than 4 years after therapy hypopigmentation was diagnosed in 91.8% and teleangiectases in 82.2% of examinations. Total dose, the time–dose–fractionation factor (TDF), field size and dose per fraction were significantly related to the frequency of cosmetic changes. Incidence rates of cosmetic changes differed by less than 15% if different treatment conditions were compared: thicker vs. thinner tumours, larger vs. smaller fields, higher vs. lower total doses, doses per fraction, and TDF. Frequencies of hypopigmentation, teleangiectases, erythema and hyperpigmentation differed by more than 15% between some localizations on the head. Women reported irritation by the visual appearance of the irradiated field in 12.6% of 1116 interviews, and men in 4.4% of 1284 interviews.
Conclusions Cosmetic changes after soft X-ray therapy are relatively frequent. Treatment parameters, tumour thickness and field size have only a minor influence. Few patients, but more women than men, were irritated by the visual appearance of the irradiated field.