Total Skin Electron Beam Therapy for Cutaneous T-cell Lymphoma

a man stands on a platform and poses with one arm up and the other down while another positions him
Bradley DePaoli, M.D., demonstrates one of the treatment positions with guidance from radiation therapist Sheldon Mims.

MUSC Hollings Cancer Center is the only cancer center in South Carolina to offer total skin electron beam therapy to treat cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. Our Cutaneous Lymphoma Clinic specializes in treating this rare cancer, so you will be in good hands with our team of experts.

What is total skin electron beam therapy?

Total skin electron beam therapy treats your entire skin surface with low-dose electron beam radiation to reduce the skin patches and plaques caused by cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. The radiation penetrates only 1-2 millimeters below the skin, so your organs are not affected, but the cancer cells will die off.

A typical treatment course will run for one week, Monday through Friday. The effects of the treatment generally last a year or two, and it can be repeated.

How will I benefit from total skin electron beam therapy?

Early in the course of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, you can usually get relief from focused treatment that targets limited areas of the skin. If the disease has progressed to the point that the redness, scaliness, patches and plaques are widely spread across your entire skin surface, or if initial treatments are no longer working, then total skin electron beam therapy may be appropriate for you.

Total skin electron beam therapy usually is not a cure. However, the treatment can provide relief and improve your quality of life so that you can return to some of the activities that you enjoy.

Who will oversee my total skin electron beam therapy?

This therapy is a collaborative effort between radiation oncologists, radiation physicists and radiation therapists. Dermatology and medical oncology specialists are also part of the team.

Radiation oncologists create the plan of treatment. Radiation physicists calculate how much radiation to deliver, taking into account the size of the room and the individual patient, to ensure that the patient receives the prescribed dosage. Using in vivo dosimetry, they measure how much radiation the patient received after the first treatment to check whether any adjustments need to be made.

Radiation therapists will help you on the day of treatment to stand in the proper position. They monitor the treatment from a control room and can see and hear you through video monitors. They may also speak to you through microphones.

What is the process of total skin electron beam therapy like?

The goal of total skin electron beam therapy is to cover the entire surface of your skin with low-dose electron beam radiation. To achieve this, you will be asked to stand in six specific positions that have been designed to expose all of your skin. You will wear a paper gown, and special tungsten eye shields will protect your eyes from the radiation.

Are there side effects from total skin electron beam therapy?

As with any cancer treatment, side effects are possible. If you experience any side effects, talk with your doctor about ways to manage them. Some side effects that you might experience from total skin electron beam therapy include:

  • skin redness
  • itchy and flaking skin
  • temporary hair loss
  • nail loss
  • hand or foot soreness
  • decreased ability to sweat for up to a year