The aim of this retrospective study is to develop an evidence-based approach to managing radiation induced skin reactions. A Clinical Guideline Development Group was established to undertake a systematic review of literature and a survey of cancer centres with the objectives of highlighting and recommending best practice. Thirty-one papers were reviewed using the United States Health Care Policy and Research and Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network criteria and 42 United Kingdom Cancer Centres responded with a mix of guidelines and information about skin care assessment and advice. The evidence base for the findings is mainly levels II, III and IV.
Although perceived as common, the incidence of skin reactions has not been quantified. There is little evidence of consistent assessment of acute reactions and the survey data shows that the use of a scoring tool such as the Radiation Oncology Group criteria (RTOG/EORTC 1985) is rare. It also demonstrates that advice to patients is variable and sometimes contradictory. Appropriate and timely information is essential to relieve anxiety and reduce problems.
There appears to be a place for the use of creams in the management of early (RTOG/EORTC 0,1, 2a) skin reactions and in delaying the onset of subsequent skin breakdown, however this evidence is not clear and several of the studies identified some allergic reactions to creams. The intervention used varies between departments and individual patients and is ad hoc rather than based on firm evidence.
For reactions graded RTOG/EORTC 2b and 3, evidence from wound care literature suggests the use of hydrocolloids or hydrogels which are founded on moist wound healing principles. No evidence could be found to support the management of RTOG 4.
The study recommends the development of a clinical guideline encompassing factors affecting the onset of reactions, assessment and management principles, and patient information and makes suggestions for much needed further research.