Radiotherapy for skin cancer

What are the aims of this leaflet?

This leaflet has been written to help you understand more about radiotherapy treatment for skin cancer.

What is radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy is the use of X-rays to destroy cancerous cells. In the skin, it is mainly used to treat basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas although other conditions may also benefit from the therapy.

When is radiotherapy used?

  • When the cancer is too large or in a difficult place in the body for surgery.
  • When the patient does not want surgery or is not fit enough for surgery.
  • When radiotherapy may give a better cosmetic result than surgery (for instance, some cancers on the nose).
  • When there has been an operation to remove the cancer and it is considered that radiotherapy may reduce the risk of the cancer returning.

Where will you receive the treatment?

Radiotherapy for skin cancer is given as an outpatient procedure in a Radiotherapy Department. Generally, you will not need to be admitted to hospital. Several outpatient visits are usually required.

What is the duration of the treatment?

For small cancers the treatment is often over a period of approximately 2 weeks, whilst for larger cancers, particularly squamous cell carcinomas, it may be over about 4 weeks.

How should you look after your skin?

While on treatment you should wash the area with mild fragrance free soap and warm or cool water. Gently pat dry the skin with a towel. You should not apply any cream or lotions to the treated area until any reaction from the treatment has settled down; this includes cosmetics and sunblock if your face is being treated. If you are having treatment near the hair line, be careful when washing your hair and do not use a hair dryer near the area; allow your hair to dry naturally. It is better to keep the treated area out of strong winds and sunlight as these can irritate the skin and make the reaction worse. Try to avoid clothes rubbing the treated area.

Where can I get more information about radiotherapy?

Web links to detailed leaflets:

CancerHelp UK

Macmillan Cancer Support
89 Albert Embankment
London SE1 7UQ
Helpline (for emotional support): 0808 808 2020
Helpline (for information): 0808 800 1234

Link to patient support groups:

British Association of Skin Camouflage (NHS and private practice)

Tel: 01254 703 107

Changing Faces
The Squire Centre
33-37 University Street
London, WC1E 6JN
Tel: 0300 012 0275 (for support and advice)
Tel: 0300 012 0276 (for the Skin Camouflage Service)

For details of source materials used please contact the Clinical Standards Unit (

This leaflet aims to provide accurate information about the subject and is a consensus of the views held by representatives of the British Association of Dermatologists: individual patient circumstances may differ, which might alter both the advice and course of therapy given to you by your doctor.

This leaflet has been assessed for readability by the British Association of Dermatologists’ Patient Information Lay Review Panel


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