Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer Treatment
Radiation therapy is employed in the treatment of cancer to prevent the growth of tumors and thereby retards the progression of cancer into neighboring organs.
Patients diagnosed with breast cancer can be given Radiation therapy as this therapy is helpful in all stages. Radiation therapy is pain-free therapy.
Goals Of Radiation Therapy
The radiation used in cancer treatment involves high-energy X-rays. The Radiation beams attack the cancer cells and alter the genetic makeup of the cancerous cells. The Radiation can directly damage the DNA of the cancer cells and helps in slowing down the rapid cell division of cancerous cells.
Radiation therapy is effective in diminishing the size of tumors.
When Is Radiotherapy Treatment For Breast Cancer Given?
The timing of radiation therapy plays a significant role
- Pre-surgery: In some rare cases, your oncologist may advise you to get radiation therapy before surgery to decrease the tumor size.
- Post-surgery: Radiation can be given after lumpectomy (removal of the lump) and mastectomy (removal of affected breast) to destroy the remaining cancer cells present in the breast to prevent breast cancer recurrence.
- Stand-By to Surgery: For some patients, breast cancer tumors cannot be removed through surgery due to their size, location, and patient’s other medical concerns. In that case, radiation therapy can be given and it acts as a substitute treatment.
- Advanced Metastatic Cancer: For treating stage 4 breast cancer where cancer has spread to distant organs, radiation therapy will be prescribed to subside the pain and control the symptoms as radiation therapy can help shrink cancer and its progression.
Radiation Therapy Effectiveness
Radiation therapy in breast cancer treatment is more effective in reducing the risk of breast cancer relapse. Especially if the cancer is detected at its early stage, a surgery to remove the abnormal tumor will be performed, and radiation therapy will be induced.
Remember that radiation therapy can become successful only if you complete the course of the recommended dose without intervals.
Research states that having a lumpectomy combined with radiation therapy has better outcomes than having a surgery alone that involves the removal of the whole breasts that are affected.
- External beam radiation is a common radiation treatment given for breast cancer. The radiation is delivered to your body from an external source by a machine called a linear accelerator that generates the radiation beam.
- Internal radiation/Brachytherapy: It involves implanting a radioactive device or a source after removing a tumor from the breast by the onco-surgeons into the targeted area of the breast. It will be removed after the course of treatment.
- Intraoperative Radiation therapy: The course of radiation will be administered wholly as a single large dose during breast cancer surgery.
Steps Involved In Radiation Therapy
Step 1 - Discussion With The Radiation Oncologist
When you are diagnosed with breast cancer, your oncologists’ team will craft a treatment plan based on your breast cancer type, location, and tumor size. Suppose radiation therapy is the recommended option for your breast cancer treatment. In that case, you will have to meet your radiation oncologist to have a detailed discussion regarding the area to treat, the dose of radiation, the duration of radiation treatment, the risks, benefits, and side effects of radiation therapy.
The radiation therapy will not be commenced without obtaining the patient’s and caretaker’s consent.
Step 2 - Planning Of Your Radiation Therapy
You will have to book an appointment with your radiation oncologist before commencing the exact treatment. Based on your reports, the doctor will examine the areas to be treated with the radiation.
The radiation therapist will instruct you to lie on the bed and demarcate the field in dotted lines with ink that resembles a tattoo.
Step 3 - What Happens During A Radiation Therapy Session?
Depending on the prescribed dose, the duration of radio sessions will vary from 30 seconds to a few minutes( 15 - 45 minutes)
You will be asked to change your clothes in a dressing room before the radio session and if required x-rays will be taken to confirm the position. Followed by that, the radiation therapist will suitably position you based on your marked areas and the machine ( linear accelerator) will be turned on to generate the radiation and you will hear a drumming noise from the machine, although you can’t visualize the radiation beams. You must stay still during your entire session and breathe normally.
You can communicate with the therapists with an intercom and they will monitor you from the screen present in the next room
If you have got your mastectomy done before radiation therapy, A wet towel or rubber would be placed over the area to increase the radiation dose to the targeted area.
Schedules Of Radiotherapy For Breast Cancer
To treat the entire affected breast, whole radiation therapy will be performed for five days a week. It may last for 6- 7 weeks, whereas, for partial breast treatment, the radiation therapy will be completed within 1-3 weeks.
In some cases, even after whole radiation therapy, accelerated partial radiation therapy can be given in large doses for a shorter duration, say 3- 4 weeks, to prevent the recurrent growth of tumor.
3 Do’s While You Are On Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer
- Stay hydrated “drink plenty of fluids”
- Include protein-rich foods in your diet
- Maintain your daily calorie requirement
5 Don’ts While You Are On Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer
- Vitamins: It is recommended not to consume vitamin supplements while taking radiation therapy because the vitamins tend to interfere with the working of radiation in destroying the cancer cells. The reason behind this is that the vitamins are rich sources of antioxidants that are typically to minimize free radicals that damage all cells. In contrast, radiation therapy influences the free radicals attacking the cancer cells. So to prevent the interaction between the vitamin and radiation therapy, oncologists recommend having vitamins after the radiation treatment.
- Sunlight: It Is advised to stay away from sunlight while taking radiation therapy sessions to protect the radiation-treated area. You should follow specific strategies such as wearing high neck clothing. Use sunscreen lotion that contains SPF 30 over the treated area before stepping out if you reside in the warmer regions.
- Pregnancy: It is advised to avoid radiation during pregnancy or avoid getting pregnant during radiation therapy. Since radiation therapy involves high-energy radio waves that have got good penetration into the placenta can impact the baby in the womb and lead to congenital disabilities.
- To avoid skin eruptions, it is advised to avoid using deodorants, razors, cold/ ice packs, or hot bags to the treated breasts area
- Do not scratch or itch the areas marked for radiation therapy.