Breast cancer can be treated in a number of ways, including by radiation therapy.
Depending on the type and stage of your cancer, radiation can be used alone as a treatment for breast cancer, or with other treatments.
There are different types and records of radiation therapy for breast cancer, and finding out more about it and what to expect will help you prepare for this treatment.
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Radiation kills or slows down the growth of cancer cells. While it also affects nearby healthy cells, the healthy cells usually recover after the course of radiation has ended. Doctors try to protect healthy cells by:
- using as low a dose of radiation as possible
- spreading treatment over time
- targeting the radiation at a specific part of your body
External beam radiation is the most common type of radiation therapy, according to the American Cancer Society.
With external beam radiation, a device directs the transport of high-energy radiation in the place where the cancer cells were found.
Radiation therapy can be used in a number of situations to treat breast cancer. It can be used:
- after breast-conserving surgery, to reduce the risk of breastfeeding
- after mastectomy, especially if:
- the dip was more than 5 centimeters
- you had cancer in your lymph nodes
- the edges were good
- to help with side effects if the cancer is spreading to other areas of your body such as your bones or brain
Depending on the type of breast cancer and the stage of cancer, it can be used with other cancer treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy,
There are two main types of radiation treatment: external beam radiation and internal radiation. Some people have both types of treatment.
External beam radiation
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With this technique, a large device sends beams of radiation to the far area of your breast affected by cancer.
The beams are aimed directly at the site of your tomb. As the machine moves around you, it can send radiation to your torso from different directions.
In brachytherapy, a device with radioactive seeds or pellets is inserted into your breast tissue where the tumor was located. For breast cancer, brachytherapy is often given through one or more small tubes or catheters.
Some factors, such as the location and size of the tumor, may limit who can receive this type of radiation treatment.
Indoor radiation usually works well when:
- breast cancer is at an early stage
- cancer is just in one place in your breast
- you have had breast-conserving surgery
Knowing what to expect before radiation treatment can help you better prepare for the treatment and deal with any concerns you may have ahead of time.
What to expect from external beam radiation
If you have external beam radiation, meet with your radiation oncologist and nurse before starting treatment. They will walk you through what should be expected with external beam radiation, and the risks and benefits of this treatment.
At this point, it is likely that you will have a physical exam and go over your medical history.
In addition, the radiation oncologist and radiation therapist will provide scans of your area of treatment. This will help define the boundaries of the affected area so that they know where to target the radiation beams.
They put marks (tattoos or ink) on your skin to mark the area. You need the symptoms during your course of treatment. The signals will be used to stretch your body, so the radiation beams will focus on the exact area that needs to be treated.
Sometimes a body mold is made to move you through the treatment and to keep your body still.
Each treatment only lasts a few minutes. The session setting will take longer than the treatment itself. You will not feel anything when the machine is turned on for handling. It’s a painless way.
What to expect from indoor radiation
Before you receive any internal radiation, meet with your radiation oncologist. They will:
- do a physical test
- ask about your medical history
- take over what your internal radiation treatment will be
Most internal radiation, or brachytherapy, is administered by a catheter. This is a small flexible tube that has been medically inserted into the area left over from breast-conserving surgery.
At the end of the catheter is a device that can be inserted inside your chest so that it stays in place throughout the procedure.
During your treatment, radiation pellets or seeds are inserted down the tube and into the inflatable device. They usually stay there for about 10 to 20 minutes or longer, after which they are removed. The length of time the radiation damselflies stay in place depends on:
- your type of cancer
- your overall health
- other cancer treatments you have received
As soon as your course of treatment is over, the catheter and inflatable device will be removed.
With breast cancer, radiation therapy usually begins about 3 to 4 weeks after breast cancer treatment or mastectomy, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Outpatient radiation is usually given once a day, 5 days a week, for anywhere from 2 to 10 weeks on an outpatient basis. This means you can go home after the treatment.
Sometimes the schedule for external radiation may differ from the standard schedule. Examples of this include:
- Accelerated fraction. Treatment is given in larger doses daily or weekly, reducing the duration of treatment.
- Hyperfractionation. Smaller doses of radiation are given more than once a day.
- Hypofractionation. Larger doses of radiation are given once a day (or as often) to reduce the number of treatments.
For brachytherapy (intra-radiation), treatments are usually given twice a day for 5 days in a row as outpatient procedures. Your specific treatment schedule will depend on what your oncologist has prescribed.
A less common treatment option is to leave the radiation in your body for hours or days. With this type of treatment, you will stay in the hospital to protect others from radiation.
Common side effects of external beam radiation therapy for breast cancer include:
- skin irritation similar to sunburn in the treatment area
- dry, itchy, tender skin
- swelling or heaviness in your chest
Skin changes and changes to your breasts usually go away within a few months to a year.
Hair loss from radiation usually only occurs in areas that are exposed to the radiation. If there is beam radiation outside your chest, you usually do not lose your hair on your head. You may lose hair in your armpits, depending on what area is under radiation.
Long-term effects can also occur with external beam radiation, which may:
- make your chest smaller and harder
- making it harder to breastfeed him
- influencing reconstruction options
- impact nerves in your arm
Internal radiation usually has fewer side effects compared to external beam radiation. The most common side effects include:
- redness or discoloration, and a brush
- chest pain
- thin fat destruction
- accumulation of fluid in your chest
- weakness in and fractures of your ribs in rare cases
Many effects of radiation will go away within a few months of the end of your treatment. If you have persistent side effects, talk to your doctor.
There are steps you can take to help reduce some of the side effects of radiation therapy.
- Fatigue can last long after radiation treatment is over. Make sure you get enough rest, eat a balanced diet, stay hydrated, exercise regularly, and keep a record of your obesity so you can properly report to your doctor about this effect.
- Only use lotion and skin products recommended by your doctor.
- Avoid applying anything too hot or too cold on your affected skin.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing that does not rub against your skin.
- Avoid tanning beds. The UV rays can further irritate and inflame your skin.
- Avoid sun exposure on the treatment area.
- Do not use deodorants, perfumes or products that contain alcohol unless you are told it is safe.
Radiation for breast cancer is a common treatment that kills or slows the growth of cancer cells. While it affects nearby healthy cells, these cells usually recover after treatment has ended.
Radiation therapy can be used alone or with other treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy.
Two common types of radiation treatment for breast cancer are external beam radiation and internal beam radiation, also known as brachytherapy, which usually has fewer side effects.
The type of radiation that is most suitable for you depends on:
- type and stage of breast cancer
- your overall health
- other cancer treatments you have received
Talk to your doctor about your treatment options. Together you can make the treatment decisions that are right for you.