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Care of the Breast Cancer Patient

• After Surgical Treatment
  of Breast Cancer
• Lumpectomy
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• Radiation Therapy

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Care of the Breast Cancer Patient

Radiation Therapy

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 therapy?
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.

 
 
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