Breast Cancer Radiation
There are two types of radiation treatment used for breast cancer: external radiation and internal radiation. Radiation therapy (or radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Side effects of this therapy may include such things as fatigue and red, dry, tender, and itchy skin in the treated area. With breast cancer, this type of treatment may be used prior to surgery, after surgery, or instead of surgery.
Breast cancer radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells that may remain in the area following breast cancer surgery.
Radiation treatment may be administered through a machine delivers radiation to the affected breast and, in some cases, to the lymph nodes under the arm or at the collarbone (clavicle). Other methods for administering the radiation therapy include implanting thin plastic tubes containing a radioactive substance directly into the breast.
Most women receive radiation treatment for breast cancer after breast-sparing surgery. Radiation therapy is also used sometimes to shrink tumors before surgery. Doctors use this approach when the tumor is large or may be hard to remove.
Doctors sometimes use radiation therapy along with chemotherapy, instead of surgery, to destroy cancer cells and to shrink tumors. Some women may receive radiation therapy after a mastectomy.
The usual schedule for breast cancer radiation therapy is 5 days a week for 5 to 6 weeks. The actual treatment, given by a radiation therapist, takes only a few minutes each day. Sometimes, an additional "boost" or higher dose of radiation is given to the area where the cancer was found.
During your first visit for radiation treatment planning, your chest area will be marked with ink or with a few long-lasting tattoos. These marks must stay on your skin during the entire treatment period because they show exactly where the radiation will be given.
Your radiation oncologist will plan your specific treatment based on a physical exam, mammograms, pathology and lab reports, and your medical history. Doctors carefully limit both the intensity of each treatment and the area being treated so that the least amount of normal tissue will be affected.
Throughout your therapy, your radiation oncologist will check on the effects of your treatment, and you will have regular physical exams and blood tests to check your general health. To get the full benefit from radiation therapy, you need to complete all your treatments as scheduled.