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March 17, 2011

Severe Burns from Radiation: Lessons from Cancer Treatments


With Japan suffering through a national health scare over the leaking of radiation from its tsunami-damaged nuclear power plants, the topic of radiation sickness and radiation burns has made it front and center in the newspapers and TV news programs.

But the most common sources of radiation burns are the sun, and treatments for cancer. First, repeated sunburns means repeated radiation exposure, which damages skin cells so much that the possibility of getting carcinoma, melanoma, or other skin cancer is significant among people who do not take precautions to protect their skin from the sun.

Ironically, for people who have breast, cancer, colon cancer, and other types, radiation therapy is often used to stop malignant tumors from growing and spreading, and eventually killing them. But this treatment often results in radiation burns.

Here are a few things patients can do to help speed healing, and alleviate the pain of these burns--which actually hurt more than third-degree burns that destroy nerve endings.

-Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used to treat severe radiation burns because of the increased need for nutrients and the need to generate healing quickly because of possible surgery to remove a malignancy. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy works as the pressure within the hyperbaric tank presses upon the vessels and saturates the plasma in the blood. This causes an increased amount of oxygen flow and increases the healing process. It also generates new skin cells.

-Intravenous therapy is used for severe radiation burns because the body can easily become dehydrated. This loss of fluids is due to the exposed, burned skin that cannot hold in moisture, and increased body temperature. Fluids are pumped into the body to help keep the patient hydrated and to speed recovery.

-Cool compresses as well as careful skin care will be needed for a radiation burn site after therapy for a malignancy. Cool compresses are applied to the affected areas to help the healing process and to relieve some of the burning feeling patients may experience.

-Because radiation-burned skin commonly becomes dry, red and flaky, and thus becomes itchy and irritating, applying aloe vera, a gentle moisturizer, to the skin can help ease flakiness and help promote burn healing. Aloe vera presents an ideal radiation burn moisturizer, since it is is gentle on the skin and should not cause further irritation. Aloe vera gel does not contain oils or fats, which act to seal heat into the radiation burn and slow the healing process. But remember that the American Cancer Society cautions that patients with allergies to onions, garlic or tulips may have adverse reactions to its use.

-Pain medications are necessary to ease discomfort from a radiation burn. Anything from ibuprofen to morphine may be administered, depending on the severity of the burns. Lesser burns may be treated with over-the-counter drugs, but doctors may prescribe more serious pain medications for higher levels of pain.

-Debridement of the radiation burn site as well as antibiotic therapy will be used to treat the radiation burn area. Infection also may occur with radiation burns and needs to be treated to prevent further complications from the radiated burn site.

Lastly, consider this: If you do obtain severe burn injuries from a medical treatment, you might want to consult with a person-injury law firm such as Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, NY, to see if the medical provider was negligent in applying the treatment.

August 2, 2010

The Effect of Sun on the Skin

The sun plays an important role in the manufacture of vitamin D. The sun has ultraviolet rays which can be harmful to the skin. There are three types of rays, Ultraviolet A, B and C. Ultraviolet A rays penetrate the skin more deeply than ultraviolet B. it's responsible for wrinkles, skin tanning and premature aging of the skin. Ultraviolet B rays affect the epidermis which is the outer layer of the skin and is responsible for sunburns. Ultraviolet C rays are absorbed almost completely by the ozone layer. Both A and B rays can harm the skin and can cause skin cancer.

Wrinkles:

The skin is held together in a smooth and a firm way by a protein called collagen. UVA rays damage collagen leading to the formation of wrinkles.

Tanning:

People often believe that tanning is healthy but it is not. A tan actually means that damage has been done to the skin. Melanocytes are the cells producing melanin which is the pigment responsible for skin color. When the skin is exposed to the sun the melanocytes produce more melanin to protect the skin and this pigment creates the tan.

Sunburns: (see sunburns part I, part II).

Skin cancer: (see Basal cell carcinoma, Squamous cell and melanoma).

Prevention:

  • Decrease sun exposure and avoid exposure to sun during peak hours (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.)
  • Wear protective clothes such as long sleeved shirts, long pants, a hat and sunglasses.
  • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15 or greater. Apply the sunscreen to all exposed areas 30 minutes before sun exposure, reapply sunscreen every 2 hours and after sweating or swimming.
  • Check your skin for any lesion that recently appeared or any changes in pre existing lesions
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This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice; it should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Call 911 for all medical emergencies.