Down-Low with Radiation
Last updated: October 2021
Have you ever noticed that injuries just seem to heal so much slower when they are located on your lower legs? If it is a surgery site from a skin cancer removal or even if it is just a scrape you got from running into the coffee table (like I always seem to be doing), they just take forever to heal! It turns out we are not imagining things; it is actually true. And you guessed it! I will give you the science behind why and what you can do to reduce your downtime if you find yourself with skin cancer on your lower leg.
The answer is quite simple: it is due to your heart and gravity
Your heart works hard to pump blood throughout your entire body. There are about 5.6 liters of blood in your body, and that much blood is circulated three times every minute! Your blood is moving fast to deliver nutrients and oxygen to your body’s tissues, so they can keep doing their jobs. As your blood travels further from the heart, it needs help to keep flowing. Your muscles are an essential part of the circulatory system. As they contract, they push the blood along.
Sitting isn't the best for us
But as we all know, we aren’t constantly moving. Sitting allows for gravity to pool the blood in your lower legs and feet, leading to poor circulation. That is why we are always hearing people say, “get up and move around.” It is not to prevent laziness (or maybe, in some cases, it is!), but it is to get your blood moving! Don’t let gravity keep your blood down. Simple things like going on a short walk, compression socks, and elevating your feet when possible will help your blood on its journey!
So what do lower legs have to do with radiation?
In my dermatology office, we see many patients in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s with non-melanoma skin cancers on their lower legs. The story is almost always the same: “I was waiting for it to heal, you know how things down there always take forever to heal.” Unfortunately, the delay in treatment often results in larger skin cancers. A surgical removal is always an option, but our office prefers a non-invasive treatment course.
Some people opt for SRT instead of surgery
Instead of surgery, we offer our patients treatment with superficial radiation. We use low-energy radiation to treat the skin cancer over a period of time. The radiation will kill the cancerous cells but allow the healthy skin time to heal. As I do radiation on the lower legs, we monitor the treatment area very carefully.
What might the area look like?
The spot on the leg we are treating will get red, like a sunburn, but will not be an open sore. If the area looks like it needs time to heal, we can slow down the treatment and allow for healing. We eliminate skin cancer with over a 98% cure rate while allowing the person under treatment to live their normal day-to-day life without tedious wound care.
"I will be back for more zapping if I find any more on my legs"
As the patient who led to the inspiration for this article said, “Radiation treatments are annoying to have to do multiple times a week, no offense. But after seeing how long it took my last surgery on my leg to heal, I was willing to try anything to avoid that again. This treatment is straightforward, and the spot has not bothered me once. I may still have future skin cancers ‘cut out’ when possible, but I will be back for more zapping if I find any more on my legs.” - (G. SCC on Lower Shin)
Keep this in mind
Some risks come with any treatment. You can always talk to your dermatologist to see if you are a candidate for superficial radiation treatments for your non-melanoma skin cancers.
Have you ever had radiation therapy on your legs?
Do you sunscreen in the fall?