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Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy (or radiotherapy) uses high- energy rays to stop cancer cells from growing and dividing. Radiation therapy is often used to destroy any remaining breast cancer cells in the breast, chest walls, or axilla (underarm) area after surgery. Occasionally, radiation therapy is used before surgery to shrink the size of the tumor. A common treatment for early stage breast cancer is the breast conserving therapy. Breast – conserving therapy (BCT) is the surgical removal of normal breast tissue. BCT is typically followed by at least six to seven weeks of radiation therapy. Treatment with radiation usually begins one month after surgery, allowing the breast tissue adequate time to heal. Radiation therapy may occasionally be recommended for women to destroy remaining cancer cells after mastectomy

  • Radiation Therapy after Lumpectomy
  • Radiation therapy after Mastectomy
  • Questions to ask your radiation oncologist

a) Radiation therapy after Lumpectomy: in radiation therapy after a lumpectomy, a machine delivers radiation to the affected breast and, in some cases, to the lymph nodes under the arm or at the collarbone (clavicle). The usual schedule for 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 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.

Possible Problems

Feeling more tired than usual; skin problems such as itchiness, redness, soreness, peeling, darkening, or shininess of the skin; or decreased sensation in the breast. Radiation to the breast does not cause hair loss, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Long term changes may include changes in the shape and color of the treated breast or a feeling of heaviness in the breast. Once a breast has been irradiated, it cannot be irradiated again. Any local recurrence would have to be treated by mastectomy.

b) Radiation therapy after mastectomy : There are times when radiation therapy is used after a mastectomy. It may be used if:

  • The tumor is larger than 2 inches.
  • Cancer is found in many lymph nodes under the arm.
  • The tumor is close to the rib cage or chest wall muscles.

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