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2023-10-01T00:00:00.000+10:00

Wondering about radiation therapy for breast cancer?

Wondering about radiation therapy for breast cancer?

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy, sometimes called radiotherapy or RT, uses a controlled dose of X-rays to kill or damage cancer cells.1,2 It is used to target specific locations in what is known as a localised treatment.2

When is radiation therapy used for breast cancer?

RT may be used at various times in the breast cancer care pathway, depending on your needs. Your doctor may recommend it:1

  • After lumpectomy surgery (where only part of the breast is removed) to mop up any cancer cells left behind
  • After a mastectomy (where the whole breast is removed) if the risk of the cancer coming back is thought to be high or if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes
  • If cancer cells are found in lymph nodes called the sentinel nodes in the armpit or near the breastbone
  • After chemotherapy has finished
  • In between chemotherapy and surgery

Types of radiation therapy used for breast cancer

The most common type of RT used for breast cancer is called external beam radiation therapy or EBRT.3 The high-energy X-rays are delivered using a radiation machine called a linear accelerator while you lie still.4 There are various types of EBRT - for more information visit https://www.genesiscare.com/au/treatment/radiation-therapy to find out about the different types.

Your doctor may recommend a type of internalised RT called brachytherapy.3 This is where the source of the radiation is put inside you close to the cancer.4 The source of the radiation may be a small seed, a needle, wire or thin plastic tube depending on the type and location of the cancer.4 The type of radiation used in brachytherapy is similar to EBRT, but only travels over a short distance so it can hit the cancer cells without reaching healthy tissues surrounding it.4

What to expect during radiation therapy for breast cancer

The first thing that will happen once your doctor determines you need RT is a planning appointment. This will include a computer tomography (CT) scan to find out exactly where the radiation needs to hit.1 You may need some other scans, which your RT team will discuss and guide you through.

RT is usually done daily for 3–6 weeks - depending on your individual circumstances.1 This will involve going to the clinic where you will receive your RT for a session that lasts about 10–30 minutes all up, then you can go home.1 It won’t hurt and you just need to lie still.1

Potential side effects of radiation therapy

Some side effects that may occur following RT include:1

  • Skin redness, irritation or dryness or peeling
  • Feeling tired
  • Minor aches or pain in the breast area
  • Swelling if the armpit it being targeted
  • Hair loss from your armpit if it’s being treated

These may occur during or immediately after RT.1 There are some side effects that may occur months or years later and could include inflammation in the lungs causing a cough or shortness of breath, hardening of the tissues in the area or heart problems.1

Talk to your healthcare team if you have any questions or concerns about side effects at any time.

Find out more about breast cancer here.

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy, sometimes called radiotherapy or RT, uses a controlled dose of X-rays to kill or damage cancer cells.1,2 It is used to target specific locations in what is known as a localised treatment.2

When is radiation therapy used for breast cancer?

RT may be used at various times in the breast cancer care pathway, depending on your needs. Your doctor may recommend it:1

  • After lumpectomy surgery (where only part of the breast is removed) to mop up any cancer cells left behind
  • After a mastectomy (where the whole breast is removed) if the risk of the cancer coming back is thought to be high or if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes
  • If cancer cells are found in lymph nodes called the sentinel nodes in the armpit or near the breastbone
  • After chemotherapy has finished
  • In between chemotherapy and surgery

Types of radiation therapy used for breast cancer

The most common type of RT used for breast cancer is called external beam radiation therapy or EBRT.3 The high-energy X-rays are delivered using a radiation machine called a linear accelerator while you lie still.4 There are various types of EBRT - for more information visit https://www.genesiscare.com/au/treatment/radiation-therapy to find out about the different types.

Your doctor may recommend a type of internalised RT called brachytherapy.3 This is where the source of the radiation is put inside you close to the cancer.4 The source of the radiation may be a small seed, a needle, wire or thin plastic tube depending on the type and location of the cancer.4 The type of radiation used in brachytherapy is similar to EBRT, but only travels over a short distance so it can hit the cancer cells without reaching healthy tissues surrounding it.4

What to expect during radiation therapy for breast cancer

The first thing that will happen once your doctor determines you need RT is a planning appointment. This will include a computer tomography (CT) scan to find out exactly where the radiation needs to hit.1 You may need some other scans, which your RT team will discuss and guide you through.

RT is usually done daily for 3–6 weeks - depending on your individual circumstances.1 This will involve going to the clinic where you will receive your RT for a session that lasts about 10–30 minutes all up, then you can go home.1 It won’t hurt and you just need to lie still.1

Potential side effects of radiation therapy

Some side effects that may occur following RT include:1

  • Skin redness, irritation or dryness or peeling
  • Feeling tired
  • Minor aches or pain in the breast area
  • Swelling if the armpit it being targeted
  • Hair loss from your armpit if it’s being treated

These may occur during or immediately after RT.1 There are some side effects that may occur months or years later and could include inflammation in the lungs causing a cough or shortness of breath, hardening of the tissues in the area or heart problems.1

Talk to your healthcare team if you have any questions or concerns about side effects at any time.

Find out more about breast cancer here.

Disclaimer

Any medical procedure or treatment involving the use of radiation carries risks, including skin irritation and associated pain. Before proceeding with treatment, you should discuss the risks and benefits of the treatment with an appropriately qualified health practitioner. Individual treatment outcomes and experiences will vary.