pediatric housecalls Robert R. Jarrett M.D. M.B.A. FAAP

Acne Treated by Radiation Therapy

[Acne – and the historic treatment with radiation.]

Hi Dr. Bob… Thanks for your wonderful website, which I came upon tonight and hoped would be the end to my quest for an answer to a particular question about my medical history that hasn’t had much significance until now.

As a young adolescent, in the 1960s, I think my parents sent me to a dermatologist, who administered some kind of radiation for my acne. My mother was worried it would flare up, as hers did in teenage, causing her much misery.

The treatment might have been called radiotherapy, or superficial x-rays. It wasn’t a sunlamp I don’t think. But I’m wondering now how much radiation (rads) I might have gotten.

The reason I want to know is more than idle curiosity. I was just diagnosed with breast cancer! It’s shocking but I’ll be fine — it’s the most curable, early stage version, was very small, and it’s out already. But the treatment for it is a battery of radiation treatments adding up to 5,000 rads.

So I want to know how much I might have gotten before to see if my lifetime dose might have already been overtopped. Because of these fears, I’m looking at an alternative therapy (partial breast radiation, or “mammosite”) which delivers about 1/2 as many rads but is thought to be just as effective, if not more effective as the whole breast radiation… Francesca
Thank you for perusing my site but I must confess that your question is a bit out of my field. I do remember very well several, unfortunate, if not misguided, treatments – such as radiation for acne – performed with dubious rationale.

Unfortunately, there were numbers of techniques all described as “radiotherapy,” from ultraviolet, to magnetism, to actual radiation – x-ray or other type. Not actually haven either prescribed, performed or recommended the procedure, I’m not intimately acquainted with the issues and problems. My thinking would be that the dose of radiation, and it’s spread or penetration, would also be a function of the type of device, coning, and shielding that was used.

One would hope that some effort was made to “cone” the exposure to very small and limited areas. To the extent that was done, one might believe that it would be unlikely that tissue anywhere but the face would be affected. Namely, that one would expect more facial skin effects (i.e. skin cancer etc.) than chest, breast, abdomen etc. problems.

IF what you received was true radiation. It is rare in medicine that a procedure has enough experience and data that choices can be made with much certainty. The best one can do is keep up with the medical literature, use the best information available, and make the best choice you can. If it were me, I’d be talking with radiation oncologists, who were reading and keeping up with all the latest literature, for information that I hadn’t had the time or knowledge to do for myself.

Have you made contact with a radiology department at a university medical center? Additionally, at such centers there are usually individuals (and even clubs) who are medical history buffs. They would obviously be more aware of the technical aspects of such “legacy” treatments and perhaps might even have a collection of old “radiation machines” that were used back in the day.

I wish you well in your quest – I doubt this information helps very much. You should definitely have a discussion about your concerns, with your board certified oncologist and/or radiation oncologist. With your history, they should be able to advise you on treatment plans for your current problem. I would not make a choice about the treatment plan for your current illness without such specific discussions. Believe me, I’ve looked at most of the medical related type of information available on the web; and, it is most certain that you would not get the specific information you need from a web source, of any kind.

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