Henna for Accuracy and Comfort in Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy must be precisely, repeatedly, targeted to be effective against
tumors.  The radiation treatment must kill the tumor, not the healthy tissue around the tumor!  A physician maps specific points on the patient’s body for the radiotherapy, and these exact points must be targeted at each therapeutic treatment. Any deviation in the target point means that the treatment will be less useful, and that healthy tissue may be damaged.

This presents physicians with a challenge: how can the skin be marked so the exact treatment points can be located each time during conformal radiation treatment. These treatments extend over several weeks, so the mark has to remain in place. Marking pens and surgical scribe marks disappear with bathing.  Many patients refuse permanent tattoo dots on religious grounds, or because they simply do not wish to be reminded forever that they had a tumor.  

Wurstbauer, Sedlmayer and Kogelnick tested henna as a radiotherapy isocenter marker for conformal radiotherapy treatments on 158 patients between 1998 and 2000.  They found that henna stains were superior to any other marking system in patient comfort and treatment accuracy. Patients were permitted to bathe, which pleased them.  They were not permanently tattooed, so were spared that discomfort and potential religious violation.  The henna did not interfere with the radiation, nobody had an adverse reaction to the henna, and henna did not irritate radiation-induced erythemas.  During the full course of treatment the henna only had to be redone once, rather than trying to re-establish marks each time.

The team recommended that henna be used regularly to mark skin in both conformal and conventional radiation therapy to increase patient comfort and treatment effectiveness.


Karl Wurstbauer, MD, Felix Sedlmayer, MD, H. Dieter Kogelnik, MD
Skin Markings in External Radiotherapy by Temporary Tattooing with Henna: Improvement of Accuracy and Increased Patient Comfort

Landesklinik fuer Radiotherapie und Radio-Onkologie, Landeskliniken Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria
Int. J. Radiation Oncology Biol. Phys., Vol. 50, No. 1, pp. 179–181, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Elsevier Science Inc

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*"Henna, the Joyous Body Art" 
the Encyclopedia of Henna
Catherine Cartwright-Jones c 2000 
registered with the US Library of Congress
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