What is radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy is a type
of cancer treatment that uses radiation to kill
microscopic cancer cells that may remain near
the area where the original cancer was diagnosed.
The goal is to kill only the cancer cells with
little risk to normal cells. The radiation passes
through your body and does not remain in you.
Is radiation therapy always
necessary after a lumpectomy or mastectomy?
Radiation therapy is almost
always necessary after a lumpectomy, and may sometimes
be used with someone who has had a mastectomy,
especially if the tumor was large or very deep,
involving the chest wall, or if more than 4 positive
lymph nodes were involved.
Research has shown that
patients who receive radiation therapy after surgery
may have a lower rate of recurrence of breast
cancer in the breast or in the chest wall area.
Where will I receive
my radiation therapy?
Your surgeon will refer you
to a doctor that specializes in radiation therapy.
You will go for a consultation before you begin
treatment. The radiation therapy physician, along
with a specialized team, will plan your treatment
using specialized devices and molds to keep you
in the proper position so that the radiation beam
delivers the radiation to the exact spot each
time. This planning process is called simulation.
The area targeted for radiation is also marked
or tattooed for accuracy. This helps to define
your treatment field. Most people receive radiation
therapy treatment that is delivered externally.
This is done by outpatient visits to a hospital
or treatment center.
How long will I continue
Radiation treatment usually
lasts for 5 – 6 weeks, 5 days a week. This
is the standard treatment for most breast cancers.
The actual session takes about 15 - 30 minutes
each time. However, there are some newer ways
to deliver breast radiation to patients with a
higher dose over less time (IMRT), and locally
by a special catheter (Mammosite). Your surgeon
will determine whether you may be a candidate
for these newer treatments.
Does radiation therapy
cause side effects?
While you will not feel any
pain during the treatment, you may develop soreness,
swelling, redness, or dryness of the skin as your
treatment progresses. It is important to let your
doctor or nurse know about any changes. The radiation
therapy staff can tell you what creams or lotions
can be used to lessen this effect. Most skin changes
go away after treatment is finished. You will
want to wear a soft cotton bra without an underwire
so your skin is not further irritated.
Fatigue is a common
side effect which improves after radiation is
completed. During the treatments however, you
may have to prioritize to balance your rest and
activities to help reduce your fatigue. If your
fatigue does not improve after treatments are
completed, you will want to discuss this with
your physician. Longer lasting side effects from
radiation therapy can include darkening of the
skin, thickening of the skin, or a change in sensitivity
of the tissue (increased or decreased sensitivity).
What type of follow-up
care will I need after radiation therapy?
Your follow-up care will include
alternating visits with your radiation oncologist,
breast surgeon and possibly a medical oncologist.
It may take a while after treatment ends for your
skin to heal and all irritation is gone. Also
the area may feel different – more tender
or firmer after therapy. Following with your team
closely for several years after therapy will help
to determine that your condition is stable or
that any changes can be readily identified.
Is radiation therapy treatment
covered by insurance?
Most health plans, including
part B of Medicare, cover charges for radiation
treatment. The exact cost of your radiation therapy
will depend on what type of treatments you require
and how many.
If you have additional questions
or concerns, please call us at 847-797-9000.