Radiation is one of the most common forms of cancer treatment. You may receive radiation therapy along or in conjunction with other cancer therapies. Radiation therapy uses high-energy waves to kill or damage cancer cells so they cannot divide. Although radiation therapy is effective for many types of cancer, physicians often use it to treat head and neck cancers, breast cancer, bladder cancer, lung cancer and Hodgkin disease. The outcomes with radiation therapy are generally very good.

One of the advantages of radiation therapy is that, unlike chemotherapy, it does not affect the entire body, just the area being treated. This reduces damage to other, healthy tissue. However, radiation does have its own side effects. Some side effects start during treatment and others take months or years to develop. Your radiation oncologist and other members of your cancer management team try to manage these side effects as part of your overall treatment plan.

Skin changes are one of the most common complaints from radiation patients and may include:

  • Erythema, a skin condition characterized by redness or rash,
  • Pain,
  • Itching, or
  • Dry or moist desquamation, which means shedding of the outer skin.

Doctors can prescribe medications such as topical steroids to ease the discomfort of side effects. Other radiation side effects include fatigue, diarrhea and trouble eating. Most go away in time.

Is Red Wine the Answer?

In August 2009, the American Society for Radiation Oncology announced that drinking wine might reduce the incidence of skin toxicity during radiation treatment. The members of the study were women undergoing radiation treatment for breast cancer. The group that drank one class of wine per day had lower incidence of severe skin reactions. The wine did not seem to interfere in the effectiveness of the radiation treatment. Researchers were encouraged that wine may have the potential to enhance therapy benefits in cancer patients, without increasing risks of side effects.

The antioxidants in wine are touted for their cancer prevention properties, so it's no surprise that they may help patients manage cancer treatment as well.

If you are receiving radiation therapy for cancer and experience unpleasant skin changes, ask your physician about the benefit of a daily glass of wine. This may be a simpler--and more enjoyable-way to relieve your symptoms.