What is radiation therapy?

Radiation uses high-energy rays to fight cancer by destroying cells or slowing their growth.

External Beam Therapy is the most common type of radiation therapy. The radiation is delivered by a machine to the breast area.

Brachytherapy is another type of radiation therapy, but it involves implanting sealed radioactive particles in the body. These radioactive “seeds” deliver a high dose of radiation for a short period of time.

Why is radiation therapy given?

Radiation is given to destroy any cancer cells that may possibly have remained in the breast after surgery to remove the cancer.

Who would be offered radiation?

Radiation is recommended to women who have had a lumpectomy and less commonly to women who have had a mastectomy. It may also be used for pain management in women with metastatic breast cancer.

How and when is radiation given?

Radiation therapy is given after surgery for breast cancer.  Before you begin radiation treatment, you will have a planning appointment so the area that needs to be targeted can be marked. To ensure that the same area is treated each time you go for radiation, you will get tiny tattoos (about the size of a pin head or freckle). Radiation is typically given 5 days a week for 3 to 7 weeks.

What are the common side effects?

Most women tolerate radiation quite well. The two most common side effects are a sunburn-like skin reaction and fatigue. It’s important to report any side effects that you may experience to your doctor, as he or she may offer you suggestions on how to ease them.

Links to more information

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Radiation Therapy

Radiotherapy for Primary (Early) Breast Cancer
Breast Cancer Care UK

Radiotherapy for Breast Cancer
Macmillan Cancer Support

Radiotherapy for Breast Cancer
CancerHelp UK

Radiation Therapy and You: Support for People With Cancer
National Cancer Institute