Prophylaxis and management of acute radiation-induced skin reactions: a systematic review of the literature
Radiation therapy is a common treatment for cancer patients. One of the most common side effects of radiation is acute skin reaction (radiation dermatitis) that ranges from a mild rash to severe ulceration. Approximately 85% of patients treated with radiation therapy will experience a moderate-to-severe skin reaction. Acute radiation-induced skin reactions often lead to itching and pain, delays in treatment, and diminished aesthetic appearance-and subsequently to a decrease in quality of life.
Surveys have demonstrated that a wide variety of topical, oral, and intravenous agents are used to prevent or to treat radiation-induced skin reactions. We conducted a literature review to identify trials that investigated products for the prophylaxis and management of acute radiation dermatitis. Thirty-nine studies met the pre-defined criteria, with thirty-three being categorized as prophylactic trials and six as management trials.
For objective evaluation of skin reactions, the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group criteria and the U.S. National Cancer Institute Common Toxicity Criteria were the most commonly used tools (65% of the studies). Topical corticosteroid agents were found to significantly reduce the severity of skin reactions; however, the trials of corticosteroids evaluated various agents, and no clear indication about a preferred corticosteroid has emerged. Amifostine and oral enzymes were somewhat effective in preventing radiation-induced skin reactions in phase ii and phase iii trials respectively; further large randomized controlled trials should be undertaken to better investigate those products. Biafine cream (Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceuticals, Titusville, NJ, U.S.A.) was found not to be superior to standard regimes in the prevention of radiation-induced skin reactions (n = 6).
In conclusion, the evidence is insufficient to support the use of a particular agent for the prevention and management of acute radiation-induced skin reactions. Future trials should focus on comparing agents and approaches that, in phase I and II trials, suggest efficacy. These future phase III randomized controlled trials must clearly distinguish between preventive and management strategies for radiation-induced dermatitis. Only then can evidence-based guidelines be developed, with the hope of standardizing the approach across centres and of improving the prevention and management of radiation-induced dermatitis.