When Are Side Effects An Emergency
- A temperature over 100.4 F. If you have any fever or chills, tell your doctor right away. If you canât get in touch with your doctor, go to the emergency room.
- New mouth sores, patches, a swollen tongue, or bleeding gums
- A dry, burning, scratchy, or “swollen” throat
- A cough that is new or doesnât go away
- Changes in how your bladder works, including a need to go urgently or more often, burning when you pee, or blood in your urine
- Digestive changes, including heartburn nausea, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea that is severe or lasts longer than 2 or 3 days or blood in your stools
How Long Does Radiation Therapy Typically Last
With breast cancer, radiation therapy usually begins about 3 to 4 weeks after breast-conserving therapy or a mastectomy, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
External beam radiation is typically 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 can differ from the standard schedule. Some examples of this include the following:
- Accelerated fractionation. Treatment is given in larger daily or weekly doses, reducing the duration of the treatment.
- Hyperfractionation. Smaller doses of radiation are given more than once a day.
- Hypofractionation. Larger doses of radiation are given once daily to reduce the number of treatments.
For brachytherapy , 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 ordered.
A less common treatment option is to leave the radiation in your body for hours or days. With this type of treatment, youll stay in the hospital to protect others from the radiation.
Common side effects of external beam radiation therapy for breast cancer include:
- sunburn-like skin irritation in the treatment area
- dry, itchy, tender skin
- swelling or heaviness in your breast
Skin changes and changes to your breast tissue usually go away within a few months to a year.
How To Prepare For Radiation Therapy
Talk with your doctor. Before starting radiation therapy, talk with your doctor about what to expect before, during, and after each therapy session. Ask them about possible side effects, how to reduce your risk of them, and best treatments. Knowing what to expect can reduce anxiety and help you be prepared. During and after radiation therapy, tell
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Does Radiation Therapy Help Cancer
But before we get into how this works, I would like to clarify exactly what the goals of radiation therapy are. Many people think that radiation therapy will help to prevent the cancer from metastasizing, or spreading to other organs. In fact, the purpose of radiotherapy is to decrease the chances of a local recurrence,
What Are The Types Of Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer
There are different ways to receive radiation therapy. Your healthcare provider will choose the best method based on the cancer location, type and other factors.
Types of radiation therapy for breast cancer include:
- External beam whole-breast irradiation: During external beam whole-breast radiation therapy, a machine called a linear accelerator sends beams of high-energy radiation to the involved breast. Most people get whole-breast radiation five days a week for one to six weeks. The time frame depends on factors including lymph node involvement. In some cases, intensity-modulated radiation therapy may be used.
- External beam partial-breast: This treatment directs radiation to the tumor site only, not the entire breast over 1 to 3 weeks with 3-dimensional conformal radiation or IMRT.
- Brachytherapy: Some people get internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy. Your provider places an applicator or catheter. A radioactive seed is moved into the tumor site. The seeds give off radiation for several minutes before your provider removes them. You receive two treatments every day for five days.
- Intraoperative:Intraoperative radiation therapy takes place in the operating room before your provider closes the surgical site. Your provider delivers a high dose of radiation to the tumor area of the exposed breast tissue.
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Breast Cancer Radiation Therapy: What To Expect From Treatment And Recovery
Radiation therapy is a standard treatment for breast cancer. It uses high-energy rays to target and destroy cancer cells. This can help to either shrink existing tumors or prevent cancer from returning after surgery.
While radiation treatment isnt painful, it can result in some short and long-term side effects. Understanding the side effects associated with radiation treatment and how to manage them can make the recovery period more comfortable for the patient.
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If You Have Side Effects
Let your doctor or nurse know if you have side effects or are worried about anything.
When treatment ends you usually have regular appointments for about 5 years afterwards. You can talk to your doctor or nurse at these appointments. But you don’t have to wait for your next appointment if you get a new side effect or are worried about anything. You can bring the appointment forward.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence June 2018
Treatment of primary breast cancerScottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network, September 2013
Postoperative radiotherapy for Breast Cancer: UK consensus statement
The Royal College of Radiologists, 2016
Early Breast Cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines 2019F Cardoso and others
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Breast Radiation Side Effects
- Medical Review: Neil K. Taunk MD, MSCTS
Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, is a very effective treatment for lowering the risk of recurrence in early-stage breast cancer and for managing pain or complications of metastatic breast cancer. While radiation therapy itself isnât painful, there are side effects that can feel uncomfortable. This is because while radiation destroys cancer cells, it also damages healthy cells near the area being treated.
Itâs completely normal to be concerned about potential side effects of radiation therapy. Your healthcare team is there to support you and help you manage side effects. Weâre here for you too, with information about what you might experience and things you can do to feel better.
As you prepare for radiation treatment, consider what you may want to ask your team, such as:
- What kinds of side effects can I expect? When are they most likely to start?
- Are there side effects I should let you know about immediately?
- Can you recommend ways I can take care of my skin during treatment?
The type and intensity of radiation therapy side effects you may experience depend on a number of factors, such as:
You can learn more about the different types of radiation and why they are recommended on the Radiation therapy for breast cancer page.
- Sensitivity to sunlight
- Skin color changes
You can hear more of Dr. Garyâs recommendations for skin care during radiation therapy in our full video interview.
Sexual And Reproductive Health
You can be sexually active during your radiation therapy unless your radiation oncologist gives you other instructions. You wont be radioactive or pass radiation to anyone else. If you or the person youre sexually active with can get pregnant, its important to use birth control during your radiation therapy.
You may have concerns about how cancer and your treatment can affect your sex life. Radiation therapy can affect your sexual health physically and emotionally. Talking with your radiation oncologist or nurse about your sexual health can be hard, but its an important conversation to have. They may not bring it up unless you share your questions and concerns. You may feel uncomfortable, but most people in cancer treatment have similar questions. We work hard to make sure everyone in our care feels welcome.
Sexual health programs
We also offer sexual health programs. These programs can help you manage the ways your cancer or cancer treatment affect your sexual health or fertility. Our specialists can help you address sexual health or fertility issues before, during, or after your treatment.
- For information about our Male Sexual & Reproductive Medicine Program or to make an appointment, call .
- For information about our Cancer and Fertility Program, talk with your healthcare provider.
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Can You Lose Hair After Cancer Treatment
You may lose your hair or notice its thinner after treatment. This could happen in the specific area where you get therapy, like your head. Your hair will grow back after treatment ends. In addition to second primary cancer, you could have other late side effects that may take months or years to show up.
Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. It is often used to treat breast cancer. Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan the type and amount of radiation, and when and how it is given. You may also receive other treatments.
Radiation therapy is given for different reasons. You may have radiation therapy to:
- lower the risk of the cancer coming back, or recurring, after surgery
- shrink a tumour before surgery
- treat breast cancer that comes back, or recurs, in the area of a mastectomy
- relieve pain or control the symptoms of advanced breast cancer
Doctors use external beam radiation therapy to treat breast cancer. During external beam radiation therapy, a machine directs radiation through the skin to the tumour and some of the tissue around it.
Some women may not be able to have radiation therapy because they already had radiation therapy to the chest or breast. Doctors may not offer radiation therapy to women with lung problems, damaged heart muscles and certain connective tissue diseases.
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Possible Side Effects Of Breast Cancer Radiation Therapy
Learn more about the 9 possible long term side effects of radiation therapy for breast cancer. While not everyone undergoing breast cancer radiation therapy will experience more than the short-term discomfort of sensitive skin or the frustration of feeling wiped out physically, there are some possible long-term issues.
For many, the end of their radiation treatment is also the end of their treatment for cancer. However its always good to know what to expect after your treatment.
What Is Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy is a commonly used therapy for many types of cancer. For breast cancer, radiation is typically used after surgery to help reduce the risk of cancer returning. It can also help treat a symptom, such as pain, in someone with cancer that has spread outside the breast.
During treatment, a dose of ionizing radiation is targeted at the tumor. It is often given each day, Monday through Friday, for one to six weeks. Each dose of radiation is referred to as a fraction.
Radiation damages the DNA inside the cells its hitting, which causes the cells death. Unfortunately, radiation can also damage healthy cells, leading to side effects. Some body tissues can handle radiation better than others, so side effects may occur quickly or appear later, even after radiation is done.
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During Your Radiation Therapy
On the day of your first radiation treatment, youll start putting triamcinolone 0.1% ointment on your skin in the treatment area. This is a prescription ointment that will help protect your skin. Youll use it every day, once in the morning and once in the evening. This includes the days you dont have treatment. Your radiation nurse will give you more information about it before your first treatment.
Your radiation oncologist may also recommend using Mepitel® Film to protect your skin in the treatment area. If they do, put it on your skin in the treatment area before your first treatment. Keep it on until the edges start to peel up.
Youll stay in one position for about 10 to 20 minutes during each of your radiation treatments, depending on your treatment plan. If you think youll be uncomfortable lying still, you can take acetaminophen or your usual pain medication 1 hour before your appointments.
When Might Radiation Therapy Be Used
Not all men with breast cancer need radiation therapy, but it may be used in several situations:
- After breast-conserving surgery , to help lower the chance that the cancer will come back in the remaining breast tissue or nearby lymph nodes. Radiation is needed less often for men with breast cancer than it is for women, mainly because breast-conserving surgery isnt done as much.
- After a mastectomy, especially if the cancer is larger than 5 cm , attached to the skin, or if cancer is found in the lymph nodes.
- If cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones or brain.
Which areas need radiation depends on whether you had a mastectomy or breast-conserving surgery and whether or not the cancer has reached nearby lymph nodes.
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How Long Does It Take For Side Effects To Show Up After Radiation
Some side affects wont show up until months or years after your treatment. If you have a higher dose of radiation, your chances of getting side effects are more likely but if you get too low of a dose of radiation, it wont be as effective against the cancer and could leave cancer cells alive. Here are some long-term side effects to be aware of.
External Beam Breast Cancer Radiation
External beam radiation uses external beam radiation, like that of a regular x-ray, but the beam is highly focused and targets the cancerous area for two to three minutes. This form of treatment usually involves multiple appointments in an outpatient radiation center as many as five days a week for five or six weeks. Certain situations may require a slightly higher dose of radiation over a shorter course of treatment, usually three to four weeks
External breast cancer radiation used to be the most common type used for breast cancer. However in more recent years internal radiation clinical trials have enabled more women to opt for this method if their cancer was caught early enough. Internal radiation typically offers fewer noticeable side effects.
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What Is The Best Treatment For Radiation
One way to reduce side effects is by using radioprotective drugs, but these are only used for certain types of radiation given to certain parts of the body. These drugs are given before radiation treatment to protect certain normal tissues in the treatment area. The one most commonly used today is amifostine. This drug may be used in people with head and neck cancer to reduce the mouth problems caused by radiation therapy.
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How Long Does It Take For Radiation To Cause Side Effects
Late side effects can take months or even years to develop. They can occur in any normal tissue in the body that has received radiation. The risk of late side effects depends on the area treated as well as the radiation dose that was used. Careful treatment planning can help avoid serious long-term side effects.
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Having Radiotherapy For Breast Cancer
You will have radiotherapy as an outpatient. It is usually given using equipment that looks like a large x-ray machine. You might hear it called external beam radiotherapy .
You usually have radiotherapy as a series of short, daily treatments. These are called sessions. The treatments are given from Monday to Friday, with a rest at the weekend. The person who operates the machine is called a radiographer. They will give you information and support during your treatment.
You usually have radiotherapy for 3 weeks. Women who had breast-conserving surgery may have an extra dose to the area where the cancer was. Sometimes the booster dose is given at the same time as radiotherapy to the rest of the breast. Or it may be given at the end of the 3 weeks. This means you will need a few more treatments. Your doctor will tell you how many treatments you will need.
If you have radiotherapy to your left breast, you may be asked to take a deep breath and hold it briefly. This is called deep inspiration breath hold . You do this at each of your planning and treatment sessions. It keeps you still and also moves your heart away from the treatment area. DIBH helps protect your heart during your treatment and reduces the risk of late effects.
External radiotherapy does not make you radioactive. It is safe for you to be with other people, including children, after your treatment.
Tips For Managing Skin Changes During Radiation Therapy
Areas of skin treated with radiation may become red or darker than their normal color and irritated. Skin changes from radiation therapy are often similar to what youd experience with a sunburn. You might also develop a rash called radiation dermatitis a common skin reaction of radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy may cause the treated skin to look and feel discolored, swollen, sensitive, dry, or itchy. Skin may also peel, blister, or form sores and present a risk of infection. Tell your doctor about any changes to your skin during radiation therapy there are always ways to manage these side effects, and the earlier you alert your doctor, the better.
MyBCTeam members have shared their experiences with skin problems during radiation. One member wrote, You wont feel much of anything at first. Over time, its like a gradual sunburn.
You can take care of skin in several ways during radiation therapy. Follow these tips and other suggestions from your doctor to help you feel more comfortable and decrease the risk of infections.
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