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Your gateway to information on radiation therapy for breast cancer

Radiation therapy for breast cancer: resources

Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

Radiation therapy involves treatment with X-ray beams. This works more or less like your regular X-ray beams only thing they are much more powerful than the regular X-ray beams. These high-energy rays or particles are designed to destroy cancer cells. Treatment with radiation is a form of local therapy; meaning that the treatment will work only at the place the beam hits the body. This treatment may be used to destroy cancer cells that remain in the breast, chest wall, or armpit area after surgery. In some situations the radiation oncologist may include area above your collarbone and deep inside your sternum (bone in the middle of the chest), which are not typically included in a routine breast cancer radiation therapy. Since chemotherapy is systemic treatment and would be expected control breast cancer cells in most parts of the body, chemotherapy is often given prior to radiation therapy. Radiation therapy can be of two types


  1. External beam radiation:

This is the most commonly used form of radiation therapy for women who had breast cancer surgery. Radiation beam is directed to the breast area just like the X-ray machine, but with much more accuracy to the area of exposure, which is the whole breast. The first step in the radiation therapy involves deciding on the area to be included in the radiation treatment. Computers and CT scan are used to precisely position the breast with respect to the radiation beam. The radiation oncologist will carefully takes measurements to determine the correct angles for aiming the radiation beams and will calculate the proper dose of radiation. The extent of the area selected for radiation therapy will depend on the size and extent of the tumor. Chest wall and armpit areas are not included in the routine radiation therapy of breast cancer, however if suspected to be involved with cancer these areas also may be included in the radiation treatment. Once the field of radiation therapy is determined the radiation oncology technicians will make some ink marks on your skin, which would serve as the landmarks for future treatments. Radiation therapy is usually done everyday through the weekday and usually lasts for about six weeks. Radiation therapy to the breast is relatively well tolerated and does not cause any pain. Use of deodorants and antiperspirants in the armpit area should be avoided while you are on radiation therapy. Even though radiation therapy is relatively well tolerated, some patients can develop swelling and heaviness in the breast. It may also cause skin changes that may look like sunburn in the treated area. Sunbathing and sun-exposure to the breast should be avoided while you are receiving radiation therapy. The skin changes associated with radiation therapy usually disappear within 6 to 12 weeks after completion of radiation therapy. Most of the changes would usually disappear in 6 to 12 weeks after completion of therapy. Fatigue is another common symptom that may occur during radiation therapy. Radiation therapy to armpit area may increase your risk of developing lymphedema. You should not receive radiation therapy if you are pregnant, because of the potential harmful events that may occur to the fetus.


  1. Brachytherapy:

A second form of radiation therapy is called brachytherapy. This is also known as internal radiation. In this case the radiation is coming from inside the body as opposed to an external source of radiation. Brachytherapy is less commonly used in breast cancer, but is very common form of radiotherapy in some other cancers like cervical cancer. In case of breast cancer treatment, radioactive seeds or pellets are placed directly into the breast tissue next to the cancer. Brachytherapy is not used as the main treatment in breast cancer, but is often used to give an extra dose of (boost) radiation to the tumor site.


Breast cancer treatment

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