For most women undergoing therapeutic radiation, breast cancer is the reason why. It is the most common cancer among women in the United States, and radiation therapy is one of the most widely used treatments. To learn more about radiation and how and why it’s used, read on.
How Radiation Therapy Works
Radiation therapy for breast cancer uses high-energy x-rays that either kill cancer cells or inhibit their ability to divide or grow. Cancer cells grow rapidly and are therefore more susceptible to the effects of radiation therapy – more so than normal, healthy cells.
When Radiation Therapy is Used
Radiation therapy is used to treat breast cancer at almost every stage of the disease’s progress. This treatment is used in stage I and stage II primary breast cancer along with surgery and, in some cases, after a mastectomy.
Radiation – Breast Cancer After A Lumpectomy
A lumpectomy is a surgical process where a cancerous lump or small tumor is removed from the breast. After this procedure, most practitioners prescribe radiation treatment to prevent an in-breast recurrence or relapse.
The risk for in-breast recurrence hovers at around 30 percent if radiation therapy is not given to the patient after a lumpectomy. Yet, if the patient receives radiation therapy, that risk is reduced to a fraction (between 5 and 10 percent).
Despite the survival benefits for radiation therapy after a lumpectomy, it’s not for everyone. If you’ve had radiation before, suffer from a connective tissue disease like lupus or are pregnant, you should not undergo radiation therapy.
Post-Mastectomy Radiation Therapy
Most doctors recommend radiation therapy after a mastectomy for patients who are at a high risk for cancer recurrence anywhere on the chest wall. Factors that put many women at risk include underarm lymph nodes that may test positive for cancerous cells, any Dr Vikas Goswami tumor larger than 5 cm, and narrow margins for positive cancer cells in the removed tissue.
If a patient has a very small amount of lymph nodes that test positive for cancer cells, many practitioners argue over the value of radiation therapy at all. While breast cancer survival rates may be higher, many patients suffer from other issues like heart or coronary problems caused by the radiation.
Side Effects of Radiation
Radiation is cumulative – that means as your treatments progress, so do their effectiveness and your side effects.
The most common side effect of radiation is fatigue. Patients should plan for this and opt to either take time off work or cut down on their stress and overall workload both at the office and at home. Some changes like a difference in skin color, different skin texture or increased skin irritation can also occur.
Other symptoms are itching, general skin irritation, redness, peeling, soreness, swelling and other common symptoms associated with localized radiation. Breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy often compare it to a severe, but very small sunburn. The good news is that when the treatment comes to a conclusion, the symptoms gradually diminish.