Radiation therapy is used to treat cancer while keeping the patient as functional as possible. Radiation therapy may be used in conjunction with other treatments. Unfortunately radiation therapy may also cause radiation burns. These burns are also known as radiation ulcers. Burn damage varies widely among the patient population, from light skin damage to underlying soft tissue and bone damage. The damage that occurs to the skin after radiation treatment is due to direct cell damage to DNA. Although radiation is used to kill the cancer cells, it may cause fibrosis of skin tissue within some patients.


If a radiation treatment causes a radiation burn redness will usually appear around the affected area. It tends to mimic a thermal burn with mild to severe pain. A radiation burn may also make the patient susceptible to infections and consequently delay other cancer treatments.  Risk for further tissue loss increases after the initial burn takes place until the wound is fully healed. Topical antimicrobial creams may be used to help heal the burn and fight against further trauma. If the burn is severe, it may not heal without other forms of medical care. There is an extremely high threat of infection with severe radiation burns. Surgery may be performed with gentle tissue handling and I.V. antibiotics. Most minor radiation burn patients can make a full recovery with simple treatments. However more severe radiation burns may require long-term treatments and specialized care. Preventing infection, controlling pain and healing all ulcers and wounds are all parts of making a successful recovery from a radiation burn. In cases with deep radiation burns,  re-constructive surgery may be used after the healing process has completed for cosmetic reasons.  As cancer treatments are becoming more effective, patients are living long enough to experience the late effects of radiation treatment. In time, further studies will allow for a deeper understanding of the long-term affects of radiation treatment in cancer patients.


Depending on the extent of the radiation burns that are experienced, many patients may find the process emotionally and physically draining. Emotional support can play a large part of the healing process. Patients may feel wounds hold them back in their cancer treatment. If you have received a radiation burn or other type of serious injury, you may want to speak to our law firm. Ingerman & Horwitz, LLP offers free consultations and does not charge a fee until we win a judgement for you.