A qualitative analysis of acute skin toxicity among breast cancer radiotherapy patients

Julie B. Schnur, Suzanne C. Ouellette, Terry A. Dilorenzo, Sheryl Green, Guy H. Montgomery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Objectives: One of the most common acute side effects of breast cancer radiotherapy is treatment-induced skin changes, referred to as skin toxicity. Yet no research to date has focused expressly on skin toxicity-related quality of life (QOL) in breast cancer radiotherapy patients. Therefore, our aim was to use qualitative approaches to better understand the impact of skin toxicity on QOL. Methods: Semistructured interviews were conducted with 20 women (Stage 0-III breast cancer), during their last week of external beam radiotherapy. Each interview was transcribed verbatim, and thematic analysis was performed. Results: Three themes were identified based on the interview responses: First, skin changes affect multiple dimensions of QOL. They cause physical discomfort, body image disturbance, emotional distress, and impair both day-to-day functioning and satisfaction with radiation treatment. Second, individual differences affect women's experiences. Generally African American women, younger women, women who are not currently in a relationship, women who are being treated during the summer, and women who are more invested in their appearance are more distressed by skin toxicity. Third, women use a variety of symptom management strategies including self-medication, complementary/ alternative medicine approaches, and psychological strategies. Conclusions: Implications of results are as follows: (1) skin toxicity affects numerous dimensions of QOL, and assessment approaches and psychosocial interventions should address this; (2) individual differences may affect the experience of skin toxicity and should be considered in treatment and education approaches; and (3) participants' own creativity and problem-solving should be used to improve the treatment experience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)260-268
Number of pages9
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2011


  • breast neoplasms
  • oncology
  • qualitative
  • radiodermatitis
  • radiotherapy


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