3rd September 2019

QUT researchers have proven a novel silicone-based, film-forming gel dressing can prevent skin burns from radiation therapy, a painful side effect which affects head and neck cancer patients particularly.

  • First study to prove an effective barrier against skin damage from radiation therapy in head and neck cancer
  • Patients undergoing radiation for head and neck cancer particularly prone to radiation skin burns
  • Gel prevents water loss and keeps the skin hydrated to lessen or prevent radiation dermatitis

The study, published in Radiotherapy and Oncology, provides findings to support an effective way to prevent and manage radiation dermatitis which causes dry itchy skin in 85 per cent of cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy and a wet open wound similar to burns that require dressings in up to 15 percent of patients.

Professor Ray Chan, from QUT Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation who led the study, said many clinical studies had been conducted using topical ointments but none had proven successful in preventing what could sometimes be serious wounds requiring burns treatment in head and neck cancer patients.

“Many patients with head and neck cancer are offered ‘radical’ radiotherapy which is often daily for four to six weeks,” Professor Chan said.

“While radiotherapy has become more and more precise, the radiation goes through the skin ‘killing’ the skin cells and affecting the skin’s ability to rejuvenate itself, ultimately leading to radiation dermatitis, a red, itchy and often painful rash.”

Professor Chan said the research team studied 197 patients with head and neck cancer undergoing curative radiotherapy.

“The key to preventing radiation dermatitis is to keep the skin hydrated and provide a barrier to avoid further damages to the skin,” he said.

“Our study found that the silicone-based gel dressing provided an easily applied, invisible barrier to protect the skin by preventing transdermal water loss during radiotherapy.

“It keeps the skin well-hydrated and is a barrier against further friction or damage, prevents or minimises radiation dermatitis.

“The beauty of using a gel is that it can be reapplied as needed before and after radiotherapy without the problem of a physical dressing falling off.”

Professor Chan said the finding could potentially be applied to anyone undergoing radiotherapy.

“We studied patients with head and neck cancers because they are particularly prone to radiation dermatitis because the skin on the head and neck are in constant movement as the patient goes about their daily life and this meant many physical dressings simply fell off and were impossible to provide protection,” he said.

“Also, the head and neck areas are often exposed to the sun that may worsen the burns.”

Professor Chan said patients should ask their radiation treatment team to access the gel.

The study, “A single-blind, randomised controlled trial of a silicone-based film-forming gel dressing for prophylaxis and management of radiation dermatitis in patients with head and neck cancer” was published in the journal of Radiotherapy and Oncology.

QUT Media contact:

Niki Widdowson, 07 3138 2999 or n.widdowson@qut.edu.au.

After hours: Rose Trapnell, 0407 585 901 or media@qut.edu.au.

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