Radiation As A Cause Of Breast Cancer
Radiation is a major environmental carcinogen. The most important distinction in terms of health is whether the radiation is ionizing or non-ionizing. Ionizing radiation has enough energy to remove electrons from atoms, which turns them into ions and creates free radicals. Cancer is the illness most commonly associated with ionizing radiation, because it damages the DNA in cells. Cells that are rapidly dividing, such as those in infants in growing children, are most sensitive to ionizing radiation. Pregnant women in particular should try to avoid ionizing radiation.
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.
Types Of Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer Treatment
Radiation therapy is used to treat some cases of breast cancer. Radiation is often used to kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery. Radiation therapy damages DNA and kills cells in a particular area . Radiation oncologists can target certain areas with radiation using different radiation techniques. The techniques used depend on the type of surgery and the location and extent of cancer. This article will review some of the common forms of radiation therapy for breast cancer.
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Managing The Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy For Cancer Treatment
Side effects of radiation therapy depend on the type of radiation treatment you receive. Radiation treatments rarely cause pain, but some patients experience both short- and long-term problems. Always let your oncologist know if you have any of these side effects because there are treatment options.
Short-term side effects may include:
- Discomfort or swelling in the target area
- Changes in skin sensitivity
- Fluid collecting in your breast
Long-term effects are less common but can include heart or lung problems, damage to the breasts fatty tissues, or multiple spider veins .
Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer
Radiation therapy for breast cancer may cause short-term or long-term side effects. Short term side effects of internal or external beam radiation include:
- Redness or discoloration of the skin
- Breast pain and/or swelling
Other long-term side effects of radiation for breast cancer include:
- Changes to the feel or size of the breast
- Difficulty breastfeeding
- Nerve damage that may lead to weakness, numbness or pain
- Damage to the lymph system resulting in lymphedema
- Bone weakness and fractures
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Listen To What Your Body Is Telling You
Most patients experience little or no side effects during cancer treatment, while some experience any of a number of side effects. Side effects can occur the same day or after treatment.
Thats because while radiation therapy mostly affects cancerous cells, it can impact healthy cells as well. When good cells are affected, patients may experience various side effects.
The location of the body targeted by radiation therapy can cause different side effects including:
Throughout your treatment, listen to your body and adjust your diet according to what it is telling you. You may find only some foods taste good on a given day. Be flexible and make adjustments to the foods you eat during radiation treatment.
Your radiation diet may include switching to a bland diet or adding lots of flavorful foods to your meals. Tell your doctor if you begin to experience any side effects from your radiation therapy.
Internal Radiation For Breast Cancer
Also known as brachytherapy, this type of radiotherapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in tiny tubes that resemble seeds. The tubes are inserted directly into the area where breast cancer has been removed to prevent any remaining cancer cells from growing and multiplying.
Some patients may receive more than one type of radiation as part of their breast cancer treatment plan. Breast cancer specialists select radiation treatments based on factors such as:
- the size, type and stage of a patients breast cancer
- whether the patients treatment plan includes chemotherapy or other systemic therapies
- the patients age and general health
Its worth noting that pregnant patients are not candidates for breast cancer radiation therapy because of the risk of harming the unborn child.
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External Beam Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer Patients
External beam radiation therapy uses high-energy rays onto the tumor or cancerous location. Technology and software are used to determine the exact area of the body where the cancerous cells are located in order to avoid treating healthy cells with radiation. The patient lies down on a table with the linear accelerator used to deliver radiation therapy. Each time, the machine is pointed to the same location on the body, with each session lasting only 15-30 minutes. Typically the process of external beam radiation therapy is completed over several weeks.
A newer approach to external beam radiation therapy is hypofractionated radiation therapy. Your radiation oncologist may be able to deliver the same amount of radiation treatments over a shorter time frame, such as 4-5 weeks rather than 6-8 weeks. This is done by using a higher dose in each session. This is often an option for breast cancer patients.
What Are The Types Of Radiation Therapy Used For Cancer Treatment
Radiation therapy is one of the most common forms of cancer treatment. It uses high-energy X-rays to pinpoint and destroy cancer cells. Radiation damages the cancer cells causing them to stop multiplying.We asked radiation oncologist Valerie Reed, M.D., to explain some of the most common types of radiation therapy and how they are used. Heres what she shared.
Some types of radiation therapies are used to treat cancers near sensitive organs.
Four types of radiation therapy are frequently used at MD Anderson when a tumor is close to sensitive organs. These can be used to treat many types of cancer:
Internal radiation therapies use a radioactive source in or near the cancer site
Three common types of internal radiation therapy include:
External beam radiation therapies are delivered through a specialized machine directly to the cancer site
These include the following types of radiation therapy:
Before finalizing a radiation treatment plan, our doctors review the patients clinical history, pathology reports and imaging studies to determine the optimal radiation treatment for each patient.
As each treatment plan is customized, it is important to discuss your radiation treatment options with your doctor before starting treatment.
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How Long Will Radiotherapy Last
Radiotherapy is usually given for a total of three weeks.
Treatment is given every day from Monday to Friday, with a break at the weekend. If theres a bank holiday during this time, youll usually be given an extra session at the end to make up for the one missed.
Depending on local guidelines and your personal situation, your radiotherapy may be given in a slightly different way. For example, you may have a smaller daily dose over a longer period of time. Alternatively, your treatment team may recommend five daily treatments over one week .
For several years, clinical trials have been looking at giving radiotherapy over shorter periods. One large trial has recently confirmed that people who received the shorter regime have similar results. The trial found that giving radiotherapy over the shorter time period was as safe and as effective as the longer period. The trial results so far are based on people who were followed up for five years in the two groups. The results following people up for ten years are to be published shortly.
Based on these trials, radiotherapy experts believe shortening some peoples treatment is an acceptable way to be treated.
Your appointments may be arranged for a similar time each day so you can settle into a routine but this isnt always possible.
If you have a holiday booked, tell your specialist or therapeutic radiographer before or at your planning appointment so together you can decide what arrangements to make.
Why And When People Start Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy is a flexible and safe treatment. Doctors may use it after surgery to remove cancerous tumors, as it can reduce the chances of a recurrence by destroying any remaining cancer cells.
If an individual has metastatic breast cancer, which is when cancer has spread to other parts of the body, doctors may also opt to treat them with radiation therapy to ease their symptoms.
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Possible Side Effects Of External Radiation
The main short-term side effects of external beam radiation therapy to the breast are:
- Swelling in the breast
- Skin changes in the treated area similar to a sunburn
Your health care team may advise you to avoid exposing the treated skin to the sun because it could make the skin changes worse. Most skin changes get better within a few months. Changes to the breast tissue usually go away in 6 to 12 months, but it can take longer.
External beam radiation therapy can also cause side effects later on:
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How Is Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer Performed
Most people lie on their back during the treatment though some breast treatments are performed while lying on your stomach . You place your arm above your head .
During the treatment, your treatment team:
- Positions and secures your body in the immobilization device. If you had a mastectomy, your provider might place a bolus on top of the treatment area to increase the radiation dose to the surface.
- Lines up the machine with the first treatment field. To protect themselves from radiation exposure, providers leave the room. Your provider can still hear and see you.
- Turns on the machine. You will hear a whirring noise, but you wont see the radiation beams. You must remain still. Depending on the radiation type and dose, treatment can take 30 seconds to several minutes.
- Returns to the room to position the machine to treat a different treatment field. Most people get treatment on two to five fields each day.
- Takes daily/weekly X-rays of the treatment field to make sure the radiation is hitting the correct area.
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What You Should Know About Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer Treatment
Radiation therapy is a treatment that can be used for many different types of cancer to target cancer cells and minimize tumor growth. Radiation therapy works by using high-energy beams or particles to damage the DNA of cancer cells, which prevents them from dividing, and results in the death of the cell.
Radiation therapy is often used for breast cancer patients to make sure any remaining cancer cells are killed after surgery or if cancer has spread to other areas of the body. Read on to learn more about the types of radiation therapy, when radiation therapy is used to treat breast cancer, what to expect at a radiation oncology appointment, and the side effects of radiation therapy.
How Is Radiation Therapy Used To Treat Breast Cancer
Radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy, is a highly effective and commonly used treatment to target and kill cancer cells and shrink cancerous tumors. Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams or particles to damage cancer cells DNA. This prevents the cells from dividing, resulting in cell death. Radiation therapy can be used alone or in combination with other breast cancer treatments, like chemotherapy, surgery, or other therapies. The recommended treatment plan and the timing of those treatments will be based on several factors specific to you.
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When Is Radiation Therapy A Good Fit For Breast Cancer Treatment
Radiation therapy can play an important role in treating all stages of breast cancer. Situations where radiation therapy for breast cancer might be an appropriate method may include:
- After a lumpectomy , to help reduce the chance of cancer recurrence in the breast or lymph nodes
- After a mastectomyespecially if the cancer was greater than 5 cm , or if cancer is found in the lymph nodes
- If cancer has metastasized
Radiation therapy for breast cancer is not for women who are pregnant, women who have already had radiation to that area of the body, or women who have a connective tissue disease, such as scleroderma or vasculitis.
What Should You Expect From Breast Cancer Radiation
Exact treatment may vary from person to person. Speak with your radiation oncologist to set the most effective treatment plan for you.
Typically, radiation therapy occurs daily over . The exact duration and dosage schedule depend on your cancer stage and other treatments.
Generally, you will begin with a consultation with your radiation oncologist. This will help you decide if radiation therapy is an effective treatment for you. After, you may have a simulation appointment. During this appointment, your radiation team marks the areas on your breast to treat with radiation.
A typical round of radiation treatment lasts around . During this time, you will need to lay very still. However, you can and should continue to breathe normally.
Typically, youll have a weekly appointment with your doctor to discuss treatment and any side effects you experience. If you have any concerns between appointments, you can speak with your doctor before then.
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Being Careful When Showering Or Bathing
A person should use warm rather than hot water, and avoid letting the spray from the showerhead directly hit the treatment area.
The National Cancer Institute notes that a person can shower daily. However, if they prefer bathing, they should do this every other day and avoid soaking for long periods of time.
They should avoid strong or fragranced soaps, and opt for gentle, fragrance-free, moisturizing soaps specifically for sensitive skin.
People should cleanse gently, and avoid scrubbing with loofahs or wash cloths, then, when done, use a soft towel to pat themselves dry..
When Will Radiation Therapy Be Given During The Breast Cancer Treatment Process
Your breast cancer specialist will determine the most effective order to administer various types of cancer treatment, including radiation therapy.
Breastcancer.org provides this set of examples for various treatment sequences that involve radiation for breast cancer:
- surgery radiation possible hormonal therapy
- surgery chemotherapy radiation possible hormonal therapy
- chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or hormonal therapy surgery radiation possible hormonal therapy
For patients who require chemotherapy, it is typically given before radiation. Chemotherapy can sometimes be done before surgery, also called neoadjuvant, and sometimes after surgery, also called adjuvant. Radiation then follows chemotherapy. They are not usually given at the same time. Depending on what chemotherapy youre given, there can be anywhere from two weeks to a month between the last chemotherapy treatment and the start of radiation therapy.
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Breast Discomfort Or Swelling
You may have some tenderness in your breast on your affected side, especially at your nipple. You may also develop extra fluid in your breast that may cause sharp, stabbing sensations. Your breast or chest may feel heavy or swollen. Your shoulder on your affected side may also feel stiff.
These sensations can start within the first few days of your radiation therapy. They can go on for many months after you finish radiation therapy. Below are suggestions to help you reduce this discomfort.
- If you wear bras, you may want to choose soft, loose bras without an underwire. Sports bras or cotton bras are good choices. You may even find it more comfortable to not wear a bra at all.
- Take pain medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as needed. Some examples of NSAIDs are ibuprofen and naproxen . If you cant take an NSAID, you can take acetaminophen instead.
Is Radiation Necessary For All Patients With Node Negative Disease
Researchers are evaluating whether eliminating radiation in several groups of women is ongoing but inconclusive at this time. For example doctors are trying to determine if women over 70 years who have hormone receptor-positive, HER2-positive disease or those with luminal A breast cancer can avoid radiation altogether.
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Working During Radiation Therapy
Some people are able to work full-time during radiation therapy. Others can work only part-time or not at all. How much you are able to work depends on how you feel. Ask your doctor or nurse what you may expect from the treatment you will have.
You are likely to feel well enough to work when you first start your radiation treatments. As time goes on, do not be surprised if you are more tired, have less energy, or feel weak. Once you have finished treatment, it may take just a few weeks for you to feel betteror it could take months.
You may get to a point during your radiation therapy when you feel too sick to work. Talk with your employer to find out if you can go on medical leave. Check that your health insurance will pay for treatment while you are on medical leave.