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For patients suffering from the tissue scarring and stiffening caused by radiation fibrosis, effective treatment is often hard to find, but there are options. The use of massage, particularly techniques targeted at helping the drainage of lymphatic fluid, can provide relief and may even help minimize damage if started early on. Stretching exercises can also help relax the scar tissue and improve its flexibility. Pentoxifylline, a drug that improves circulation, in combination with tocopherol, or vitamin E, is another common form of therapy for radiation fibrosis that is effective for some patients. Other potential therapies include acupuncture, low-dose interferon gamma, and botulinum toxin injections.
Massage is often used to try and minimize the effects of radiation fibrosis. It is particularly effective when the techniques used are aimed at stimulating the lymphatic system and helping fluid drain. This type of treatment usually works best when scarring has occurred in the body’s extremities, and may be especially helpful if done early in the onset of the condition to help avoid some of its effects.
Another option for radiation fibrosis treatment is stretching and other exercises to help ease the tightness of affected areas. These exercises can bring back flexibility and restore some of the range of motion that may have been lost when the scarring developed. Since different patients may have different degrees of fibrosis and in different areas of the body, it is probably a good idea to seek the advice of a physical therapist to find the best exercises.
Medication may also be used to improve radiation fibrosis. The most common option is taking pentoxifylline and tocopherol together. Pentoxifylline works by increasing blood flow, particularly to the capillaries in the extremities. Tocopherol, another name for vitamin E, is a powerful antioxidant that may help to minimize free radical damage to tissue. Used in combination, these two drugs may provide some improvement for patients.
Radiation fibrosis is a very difficult condition to treat, and not all treatments work for every patient, so doctors and patients have had to explore alternatives. The use of acupuncture may help reduce the pain and discomfort of the condition, as well as simply promoting overall health and relaxation. Low-dose interferon gamma may reduce the amount of scarring to affected tissue and improve lymph drainage. Injections of botulinum toxin to scarred areas have been found to improve flexibility.
I had stage 2A Hodgkin's Disease 18 years ago when I was 18 years old. I had full mantle radiation for four weeks, concentrated on the side with all of the tumors. I didn't realize until the last year or so how much smaller my left side is than my right. Part of the reason was that it was hard to look at my misshapen body and part was that I didn't realize what it was I was seeing.
My massage therapist, who specializes in deep tissue and medical issues, helped me see myself more clinically and clearly. In addition to the smaller size, I have been diagnosed with asymmetrical plural thickening on the left side.
Last year, I had
realized that I was compensating for the left side weakness by using my right arm/side when needing any strength to do anything, from carrying laundry to pushing shopping carts. Now I use the left side and I sometimes put weights into my purse and carry it until my shoulder gets tired. I try and stretch the area where I can feel the scarring and do deep breathing. It will take years but I am determined to build up my left shoulder/side as much as I can. I was lucky enough to survive and now I must make the most of it!
I had full mantle radiation for Hodgkin's Lymphoma back in 1980. After 15 years, the side effects started - all attributed by the doctors to the radiation. Over the past two years, I've been dealing with radiation fibrosis. They say the root cause was the radiation, but chemo for recent breast cancer sort of accelerated the problem.
I've had shortness of breath for many years, but always blamed it on being overweight. That didn't help, but once I lost weight, everything hit the fan - breast cancer, aortic valve replacement, lung fibrosis and bowel obstructions (caused by radiation scarring in my colon. But, without the radiation, I wouldn't be here to complain.
The reason I'm sharing all this is to show that it can take years for the long term side effects to kick in. It helps to have really good insurance and progressive doctors. Pulmonary rehab has made a world of difference. Good luck to all!