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Management of skin toxicity during radiation therapy: A review of the evidence


  • S Kumar, BAppSc MRS RT; E Juresic, BAppSc MRS RT; M Barton, OAM, MBBS, MD, FRANZCR; J Shafiq, MBBS, MCN, MPH.

  • Conflicts of interest: None.

Shivani Kumar, Radiation Oncology, Liverpool Cancer Therapy Centre, Locked Bag 7103, Liverpool BC 1871, NSW, Australia.


Acute skin toxicity occurs in the majority of the patients undergoing radical radiotherapy. While a variety of topical agents and dressing are used to ameliorate side effects, there is minimal evidence to support their use. The aims of this study were to systematically review evidence on acute skin toxicity management and to assess the current practices in ANZ. A systematic review of the literature was conducted on studies published between 1980 and 2008. A meta-analysis was performed on articles on clinical trials reporting grade II or greater toxicity. Analyses were divided into breast (the most common site) and other sites. A survey of Radiation Oncology departments across ANZ was conducted to identify patterns of practices and compare these with the published evidence. Twenty-nine articles were reviewed. Only seven articles demonstrated statistically significant results for management of side-effects. These were for topical corticosteroids, hyaluronic acid, sucralfate, calendula, Cavilon cream (3M, St Paul, Minnesota, USA) and silver leaf dressing. Meta-analysis demonstrated statistical significance for the prophylactic use of topical agents in the management acute toxicity. The survey of departments had a low response rate but demonstrated variation in skin care practices across ANZ. A considerable number of these practices were based only on anecdotal evidence. Lack of evidence in the literature for the care of radiation skin reactions was associated with variation in practice. Only a limited number of studies have demonstrated a significant benefit of specific topical agents. There is a need for objective and prospective recording of skin toxicity to collect meaningful comparative data on which to base recommendations for practice.