Severe skin reactions during radiation therapy could be prevented by applying a thin transparent silicone dressing to the skin from the first day of treatment, according to clinical research from New Zealand.

Although many skincare products have been tested in clinical trials over the years, until now, none have been able to completely prevent severe skin reactions, said Patries Herst, MD, of the University of Otago Wellington’s Department of Radiation Therapy in New Zealand.

Herst and her team of radiation therapists, oncology nurses, and medical physicists have completed five randomized, controlled, clinical trials in public hospitals in New Zealand over the past 5 years, all focusing on side effects caused by radiation therapy.

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Their most recent trial demonstrated that it is possible to prevent skin reactions from developing in breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy. Herst explained that skin reactions are common in these patients, ranging from mild redness to ulceration with symptoms of pain, burning, and itchiness.

“This can impact negatively on day-to-day life for patients who already have to cope with being diagnosed with and treated for cancer,” said Herst. She is delighted with the results and with the identification of a product that really works. The study was published in Radiotherapy and Oncology (2014; doi:10.1016/j.radonc.2014.01.005).

The dressings, known as Mepitel Film, work by adhering closely to the small folds in the skin without the use of adhesives, so that they do not stick to open wounds. By protecting the radiation-damaged skin from friction that occurs against items of clothing or other parts of the body, they allow the stem cells of the skin to heal from the radiation damage in an undisturbed environment. The dressings are also free of chemicals that could react with the skin.

Herst is currently setting up a trial that will test the dressings in patients with head and neck cancer.