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BACKGROUND: Radiotherapy may result in dryness of the skin even when no other change can be detected. We describe a system for recording the electrical conductance of skin as a measure of sweat gland function. PATIENTS AND METHODS: In 22 normal volunteers close agreement was obtained between measurements obtained from comparable sites on both sides of the chest. Measurements were subsequently made in 38 patients treated by radiotherapy to one side of the chest for tumours of the breast or lung using one of five different fractionation schedules. Simultaneous readings were obtained from both sides of the chest with the non irradiated side acting as a control. RESULTS: A dose response relationship was demonstrated: five patients who received the equivalent total dose of 15 Gy in 2-Gy fractions showed no change in conductance. Sixteen out of 23 who received an equivalent total dose of 42-46 Gy in 2-Gy fractions had a greater than 22% reduction in mean skin conductance compared with that of the control areas despite the skin appearing normal in the large majority. Marked changes in skin conductance were seen after higher total doses. In a prospective study 18 women receiving breast irradiation underwent weekly readings during treatment. A mean reduction of 40% in skin conductance was noted by the end of the second week of treatment prior to any clinical evidence of radiation change. Skin conductance returned to normal in 44% of patients by 6 months. In the remainder, those patients who showed the greatest reduction in skin conductance during treatment demonstrated the least recovery. CONCLUSIONS: Changes in sweat gland function can be detected and quantified in skin which may otherwise appear normal. Differences may so be demonstrated between areas treated using different fractionation schedules and the method may be applied to the detection during radiotherapy of unusually sensitive patient.


Journal article


Radiother Oncol

Publication Date





79 - 85


Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Breast Neoplasms, Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation, Electric Impedance, Female, Humans, Lung Neoplasms, Male, Middle Aged, Observer Variation, Prospective Studies, Radiation Tolerance, Retrospective Studies, Sweat Glands