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All about breast cancer types of breast cancer risk factors for breast cancer breast cancer symptoms breast cancer diagnosis stages of breast cancer causes of breast cancer breast cancer treatment side effects of breast cancer treatment breast cancer surgery chemotherapy for breast cancer radiation therapy for breast cancer hormone therapy for breast cancer breast cancer medications breast cancer prevention

What's the radiation therapy for the treatment of breast cancer?

Radiation therapy (or radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to stop cancer cells from growing and dividing. Radiation therapy is often used to destroy any remaining breast cancer cells in the breast, chest wall, or axilla (underarm) area after surgery. Occasionally, radiation therapy is used before surgery to shrink the size of a tumor. A common treatment for early stage breast cancer is breast-conserving therapy. Breast-conserving therapy (BCT) is the surgical removal of a breast lump

(lumpectomy) and a surrounding margin of normal breast tissue. BCT is typically followed by at least six to seven weeks of radiation therapy. Treatment with radiation usually begins one month after surgery, allowing the breast tissue adequate time to heal. Radiation therapy may occasionally be recommended for women to destroy remaining cancer cells after mastectomy (surgical removal of the affected breast) or to shrink tumors in patients with advanced breast cancer.

Radiation is a "local treatment," meaning that it is a treatment that only affects a particular area of the breast, not the entire body. It is used to cure or control breast cancer. It can also be used before surgery to shrink the size of a tumor or after surgery to prevent the cancer cells from coming back. Radiation therapy is given in two ways: external and internal. External radiation uses a machine that directs radioactive waves or rays at the cancer and some of the normal tissue around the cancer. Internal radiation places a radioactive wire or pellet in a sealed container called an implant. The implant is placed in or near the tumor. These implants use radioactive waves to kill tumor or cancer cells. Implants can be permanent or temporary.

External beam radiation: This is the usual type of radiation therapy for women with breast cancer. The radiation is focused from a source outside the body on the area affected by the cancer. This usually includes the whole breast and, depending on the size and extent of the cancer, may include the chest wall and underarm area as well. Radiation therapy is much like getting a diagnostic x-ray, but the radiation is more intense. The procedure itself is painless.

Before your treatments start, the radiation team carefully takes measurements to determine the correct angles for aiming the radiation beams and the proper dose of radiation. They will make some ink marks on your skin that they will use later as a guide to focus the radiation on the right area. Patients are usually treated 5 days a week in an outpatient center for about 6 weeks, with each treatment lasting a few minutes. A recent study from Canada found that a shorter, more intense course of treatment was effective in women with small breast tumors. Deodorants and antiperspirants can interfere with external beam radiation therapy of the underarm area, so you should avoid using them until treatments are complete.

The main side effects of external beam radiation therapy are swelling and heaviness in the breast, sunburn-like skin changes in the treated area, and fatigue. You should avoid exposing the treated skin to the sun because it can make the skin changes worse. These changes to the breast tissue and skin usually go away in 6 to 12 months.

Internal radiation: Brachytherapy (also called internal radiation) is an experimental method currently being developed to use on breast cancer patients. Instead of using radiation beams from outside the body, radioactive substances are placed directly into the breast tissue next to the cancer. Brachytherapy involves the surgical placement of 10 to 20 plastic catheters (tiny tubes called implants) into the breast tissue next to the tumor to help guide the radioactive materials to the correct area of the body. Technologists then insert pellets of radioactive substances (called Iridium-192) into the catheters. Nine or more times over the course of a week, the catheters are briefly connected to a high-dose-rate brachytherapy machine for internal radiation treatment. The treatments usually take about 10 minutes each and are painless. The tubes are usually removed after a week.

Brachytherapy is not standard practice for breast cancer patients but is currently used on cancers in other areas of the body such as the mouth, cervix, or prostate. This method is also being studied in clinical trials as the only source of radiation. So far the results have been promising, but more experience is needed with this technique before it can be recommended as standard treatment.

More information on breast cancer

What is breast cancer? - Breast cancer is cancer of breast tissue. Breast cancer starts in the cells of the breast. Breast tissue covers a larger area than just the breast.
What types of breast cancer are there? - Breast cancer is a type of uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that can develop in one of several different areas of the breast.
What're the risk factors for breast cancer? - Risk factors for breast cancer include age, geographical variation, reproductive factors, inherited risk, previous breast disease.
What're the symptoms of breast cancer? - Symptoms of breast cancer include breast lump, breast discharge, nipple inversion, or changes in the skin overlying the breast.
How is breast cancer diagnosed? - The mainstay of breast cancer diagnosis is the triad of clinical history, physical examination and imaging (mammography or ultrasound).
What're the stages of breast cancer? - The stages of breast cancer depends on its size and the extent to which it has spread to other parts of the body.
What causes breast cancer? - The exact cause or causes of breast cancer remain unknown. Hormonal influences play a role in the development of breast cancer.
What're the treatments for breast cancer? - Treatment for breast cancer begins with a decision about the type of surgery. Breast implants is used for breast reconstruction.
What're the side effects of breast cancer treatment? - The type and extent of breast cancer treatment side effects vary depending on the particular treatment involved, its duration, and its dose.
How is breast cancer treated with surgery? - Surgery is the mainstay of therapy for breast cancer. A breast biopsy is the removal of breast tissue for examination by a pathologist.
What's the chemotherapy for breast care? - Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer drugs to treat cancerous cells. Chemotherapy involves being given a combination of anti-cancer medicines.
What's the radiation therapy for breast cancer? - Radiation therapy is often used to destroy any remaining breast cancer cells in the breast, chest wall, or axilla (underarm) area after surgery.
What's the hormone therapy for breast cancer? - Most breast cancer is sensitive to the female hormone oestrogen. Megestrol acetate is used for hormone treatment of advanced breast cancer.
What breast cancer medications are available? - Medications to treat breast cancer include selective estrogen-receptor modulators, aromatase inhibitors, biologic response modifiers.
Can breast cancer be prevented? - There is no known way to prevent breast cancer. But several preventive measures can be take to reduce risk of breast cancer.
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