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Radiation Treatments For Breast Cancer

Role Of Regional Nodal Irradiation

Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

Fig. 2

Female patient undergoing right-sided breast and regional nodal radiotherapy including supra/infraclavicular and internal mammary lymph nodes after breast-conserving surgery using a 5-field sliding window IMRT

Fig. 3

Postmastectomy patient with immediate implant-based reconstruction undergoing right sided breast and regional nodal radiotherapy including supra/infraclavicular and internal mammary lymph nodes using a 6-field sliding window IMRT

In summary, these data provide strong evidence that RNI including the IMN should be considered in patients with high volume nodal disease or high-risk N01 disease using modern radiation techniques.

Internal Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer Treatment

The most common type of internal radiation therapy used to treat breast cancer is high-dose-rate brachytherapy. Its used to treat early-stage breast cancer after breast cancer surgery. HDR brachytherapy is a much shorter process compared to external radiation therapy but currently has limited use in those who had small tumors found early.

An applicator with tiny tubes is placed into the breast. During each treatment session, seeds are placed in the tubes for several minutes to deliver radiation treatment and destroy any remaining cancer cells not removed during surgery. The seeds may also target nearby lymph nodes a common area where cancer spreads. The seeds are removed but reinserted at each session. After about a week, when you complete your treatment, the applicator is removed.

Finding Premiere Experts And Care

I visited many specialists and consulted numerous reputable cancer centers around the country. Through a referral, I contacted neuro-oncologist , of NCIs Center for Cancer Research Neuro-Oncology Branch and a specialist in rare neurological cancers, in November 2018 to schedule an appointment at NIH.

Before visiting NIH, I had a full body MRI with my local doctor who discovered multiple tumors in the lumbar, thoracic, and C1 vertebrae near the base of my brain. I had an emergency thoracic spine surgery locally.

A few months after my fourth surgery, I had an MRI at NIH and talked to Dr. Gilbert about treatment options. Asking Dr. Gilbert and his team specific questions about my case really helped calm my fears, provide guidance, and trust that I would receive the best care possible. His team acknowledges there is a person going through a difficult time. Together, we developed a plan that included craniospinal radiation full body radiation to the brain and spine in Houston for six weeks.

It took me six months to fully recover from surgery and radiation as physical therapy was rather challenging. Post-surgery, I experienced difficulty walking, had to use a cane for a week or so, and still have neuropathy in both of my feet.

My biggest goal was to be healthy enough to get married to my beautiful fiancé , Nicole. My wedding was planned for June 2019, so this helped motivate me to push forward and never give up.


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What To Expect With External Beam Radiation

If you have external beam radiation, youll meet with your radiation oncologist and a nurse before starting treatment. They will walk you through what to expect with external beam radiation, and the risks and benefits of this treatment.

At this time, youll likely have a physical exam and go over your medical history.

Additionally, the radiation oncologist and a radiation therapist will take scans of your treatment area. This will help define the boundaries of the affected area so they know where to aim the radiation beams.

They will put marks on your skin to mark the area. You will need the marks throughout the course of your treatment. The marks will be used to line up your body, so the radiation beams target the exact area that needs to be treated.

Sometimes a body mold will be made to immobilize you during the treatment and to help keep your body still.

Each treatment will only last a few minutes. The session setup will take longer than the actual treatment. You wont feel anything when the machine is turned on for the treatment. Its a painless procedure.

What Are The Cosmetic Results Of Breast Conservation Therapy

How Does Radiation Therapy Work For Breast Cancer

Eighty percent to 90 percent of women treated with modern surgery and radiotherapy techniques have excellent or good cosmetic results that is, little or no change in the treated breast in size, shape, texture or appearance compared with what it was like before treatment.

Patients with large breasts seem to have greater shrinkage of the breast after radiation therapy than do patients with smaller breasts. However, this problem usually can be overcome with the use of higher x-ray energies or with IMRT. Partial breast radiation using brachytherapy can also be considered if the patient has a small early-stage tumor. This treatment is still undergoing clinical investigation. Certain single institution studies on brachytherapy and intraoperative radiation have shown some promising results. You would need to discuss this with your doctor before or shortly after surgery to determine if you qualify for partial breast radiation.

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Where Do I Start

You first will meet with a radiation oncologist to decide if radiation therapy is a recommended treatment option for your particular situation. If you and your doctors decide to proceed, then you will have an extended consultation in which you discuss the details of your treatment. This includes the exact area to treat, the amount of radiation you will receive, the length of treatment time and potential treatment side effects. The radiation oncologist will also answer any questions you may have. These issues vary for each person, so it is important to make an individual treatment plan.

Studies On Proton Therapy In Breast Cancer

Our team has identified these studies as examples of the clinical benefits of proton therapy in breast cancer.

Phase II Study of Proton Beam Radiation Therapy for Patients With Breast Cancer Requiring Regional Nodal Irradiation

In this phase II clinical trial, 70 women with breast cancer who had undergone surgery and required radiation to the breast or chest wall and nearby lymph nodes were treated using proton therapy. Nearly all the women had left sided breast cancer, where it can be hard to protect the heart from unnecessary radiation when using x-ray based radiation techniques. Before and after proton therapy, women underwent a heart test called an echocardiogram as well as bloodwork to look at markers of heart strain to see if the proton radiation had any effect on the heart. The study found that 5-years after treatment, the chance of local breast cancer recurrence was less than 2%. There were no serious toxicities of lung inflammation and no changes in bloodwork or other tests to suggest any adverse effect on the heart.

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Radiotherapy After Breast Conserving Surgery

You usually have radiotherapy to the whole breast after having breast conserving surgery . You generally start it about 4 to 6 weeks after surgery.

If you need to have chemotherapy you have this before your radiotherapy.

People with a very low risk of the cancer coming back may only have part of the breast treated with radiotherapy. Or they may not have radiotherapy at all.

How Breast Cancer Is Treated

What to Expect from Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

In cancer care, doctors specializing in different areas of cancer treatmentsuch as surgery, radiation oncology, and medical oncologywork together with radiologists and pathologists to create a patients overall treatment plan that combines different types of treatments. This is called a multidisciplinary team. Cancer care teams include a variety of other health care professionals, such as physician assistants, nurse practitioners, oncology nurses, social workers, pharmacists, counselors, nutritionists, and others. For people older than 65, a geriatric oncologist or geriatrician may also be involved in their care. Ask the members of your treatment team who is the primary contact for questions about scheduling and treatment, who is in charge during different parts of treatment, how they communicate across teams, and whether there is 1 contact who can help with communication across specialties, such as a nurse navigator. This can change over time as your health care needs change.

A treatment plan is a summary of your cancer and the planned cancer treatment. It is meant to give basic information about your medical history to any doctors who will care for you during your lifetime. Before treatment begins, ask your doctor for a copy of your treatment plan. You can also provide your doctor with a copy of the ASCO Treatment Plan form to fill out.

Learn more about making treatment decisions.

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Side Effects Of Radiation For Breast Cancer

Radiation treatments today are very precise, resulting in little harm to surrounding skin or healthy tissues. Many women tolerate radiation therapy to the breast very well and report few lasting side effects.

That said, after a few weeks of radiation, patients may experience:

  • a sunburn-like condition on the skin
  • changes in the color of the skin
  • swelling and heaviness in the breast

Our radiation oncologists will explain in detail what to expect and when side effects are likely to appear. They can also prescribe a topical cream to minimize any changes in the skin. The fatigue women experience during treatment varies greatly, but in general women can remain active in all of their normal daily activities. Most women are able to continue working throughout the course of their care.

Other side effects can appear months or years after treatment has ended. These are called late effects.

Late effects of breast cancer radiation are not common but may include:

  • inflammation in the lung, especially for women who have also received chemotherapy
  • injury to the heart when there is significant heart exposure
  • lymphedema in the arm, especially when radiation therapy is given after lymph node dissection

Image Guided Radiation Therapy

Image Guided Radiation Therapy IGRT is a system that uses frequent imaging of the area being irradiatied to make sure that the radiation is being precisely targeted to the treatment area. This is important because minimize harm to healthy tissues.

If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer choosing the right treatment option for you may be overwhelming. It is important to work with your doctor to discuss your treatment options, potential side effects, and the expected results of your treatment plan.

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What Should I Expect After Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer

You may notice fatigue as well as skin changes while undergoing radiation therapy. Your skin may become irritated, tender and swollen . People with fair skin may develop a red sunburn appearance. People with dark skin may notice darkening of the skin. This condition can also cause dry, itchy, flaky skin. Your skin may peel as you get close to finishing treatments . This skin irritation is temporary. Your provider can prescribe creams or medications to ease discomfort, if needed.

Skin discoloration can persist after treatment ends. Some people with fair skin have a slight pink or tan appearance for several years. You may also see tiny blood vessels in the radiated area. These vessels look like thin red lines or threads. These are not cause for concern.

Biologic And Targeted Therapies


Patients with HER2 positive breast cancer are given HER2 targeted therapy in combination with a chemotherapy backbone. The availability of HER2 targeted agents has dramatically changed the prognosis of patients with HER2 positive breast cancers. Initial trials randomizing patients to chemotherapy alone or chemotherapy plus trastuzumab, a monoclonal antibody directed against the HER2 receptor, demonstrated nearly 50% reduction in rate of recurrence.â At present, patients with stage I HER2 positive breast cancer often receive a regimen of paclitaxel with trastuzumab . Until United States Food and Drug Administration approval of pertuzumab in 2013, patients with stage II-III HER2 positive breast cancer received regimens with trastuzumab added to AC-T or to docetaxel and carboplatin . Recent data have shown an improvement in pathologic complete response rate when pertuzumab, an HER2 dimerization inhibitor, is added to trastuzumab in the neoadjuvant setting. Administration of dual-HER2 agents in the neoadjuvant setting is now standard for patients with stage II-III HER2 positive breast cancer., The National Comprehensive Cancer Network has also endorsed the addition of HP to chemotherapy for patients with the same burden of disease in the adjuvant setting if these therapies were not received neoadjuvantly. Recently the APHINITY trial demonstrated a small but statistically significant benefit of adjuvant HP-based over H-based therapy for one year.

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Types Of Breast Cancer

Although most consider breast cancer as one disease, there are many different types of breast cancer. The all start in the breast cancers but differ in other ways. They can be non-invasive or invasive. Tumor cells can vary in location and how they look under a microscope. And Tumor characteristics can vary as well

Non-invasive Breast Cancer Ductal Carcinoma in situ :

In situ means in place. In this case the abnormal cells are contained in the milk ducts of the breast and have not yet spread to nearby tissues.

Without treatment, the abnormal cells could spread and become invasive breast cancer. Some call this type of cancer pre-invasive or pre-cancerous

Invasive Breast Cancer

Cancer cells that spread from inside the milk ducts or lobules into surrounding tissue is invasive breast cancer. There are many types of invasive breast cancer.

Metastatic Breast Cancer

Invasive breast cancer that spreads to other parts of the body, such as the liver, lungs, bones and brain is metastatic breast cancer. It is sometimes called stage IV or advanced breast cancer. Note that metastatic breast cancer is not a type of breast cancer, but a stage of disease.

Internal Breast Cancer Radiation

Internal breast cancer radiation is also known as brachytherapy. You doctor will place a device that contains radioactive seeds in the area of the breast where the cancer was found. For a short time, internal radiation targets only the area where breast cancer is most likely to return. This causes fewer side effects. The treatment takes a week to complete.

If youve had breast-saving surgery, a doctor may treat you with both internal and external radiation to increase the boost of radiation. Doctors may only perform internal radiation as a form of accelerated partial breast radiation to speed up treatment.

Potential side effects of internal radiation include:

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What Can I Expect From My Treatment

When you arrive, please check in at the desk. Each treatment should only last 10 to 15 minutes. You can change your clothes in the dressing room and then wait in the lounge to be called.

During each treatment session, you will lay on a table while the technician uses the marks on your skin to locate and treat the field. It is important to be still while getting the radiation, although you should continue to breathe normally.

Easing Worries About Radiation Therapy

How Does Radiation Treatment for Breast Cancer Work?

Its normal to worry about possible side effects of radiation therapy.

Talk with your health care provider about your concerns.

Your provider may be able to suggest a hospital social worker, patient navigator, psychologist or support group to help ease anxiety related to radiation therapy .

With any standard radiation therapy, you will not be radioactive when you leave the radiation treatment center. You will not pose any radiation risk to your family or your pets.

Learn more about support groups.

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What Kind Of Skin Problems Can Radiation Therapy Cause

The way external radiation therapy affects your skin is similar to what happens when you spend time in the sun. It may look red, sunburned, or tanned. It may also get swollen or blistered. Your skin may also become dry, flaky, or itchy. Or it may start to peel.

Be gentle with your skin:

  • Dont wear tight clothing over the area thats being treated.
  • Dont scrub or rub your skin. To clean it, use a mild soap and let lukewarm water run over it.
  • Avoid putting anything hot or cold on the area unless the doctor tells you to.
  • Ask your doctor before you use any type of ointment, oil, lotion, or powder on your skin.
  • Ask about using corn starch to help relieve itching.
  • Stay out of the sun as much as possible. Cover the area getting radiation with clothing or hats to protect it. Ask the doctor about using sunscreen if you must be outdoors.
  • If youâre having radiation therapy for breast cancer, try not to wear a bra. If that isnt possible, wear a soft, cotton one without underwire.
  • Dont use any tape, gauze, or bandages on your skin unless the doctor tells you to.

Your skin should start to feel better a few weeks after therapy ends. But when it heals, it may be a darker color. And youâll still need to protect yourself from the sun even after radiation therapy has ended.

Breast Cancer: Types Of Treatment

Have questions about breast cancer? Ask here.

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn about the different types of treatments doctors use for people with breast cancer. Use the menu to see other pages.

This section explains the types of treatments, also known as therapies, that are the standard of care for early-stage and locally advanced breast cancer. Standard of care means the best treatments known. When making treatment plan decisions, you are encouraged to discuss with your doctor whether clinical trials are an option. A clinical trial is a research study that tests a new approach to treatment. Doctors learn through clinical trials whether a new treatment is safe, effective, and possibly better than the standard treatment. Clinical trials can test a new drug and how often it should be given, a new combination of standard treatments, or new doses of standard drugs or other treatments. Some clinical trials also test giving less drug or radiation treatment or doing less extensive surgery than what is usually done as the standard of care. Clinical trials are an option for all stages of cancer. Your doctor can help you consider all your treatment options. Learn more about clinical trials in the About Clinical Trials and Latest Research sections of this guide.

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