"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.
Types of Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer
Your specific breast cancer radiation treatment plan will be based on:
The type of breast cancer, and how likely it is to grow quickly
The size and location of the breast cancer tumor(s). This is often determined in the staging process.
Your age and overall health condition
There are two main types of radiation therapy used to treat breast cancer. External beam radiation is the most common type and targets the tumor, through the skin, from outside the body. Internal radiation delivers radiation inside the body.
External Beam Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer Treatment
External beam radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to target your breast cancer. Advanced technology and 3D imaging help pinpoint the exact area of the breast where the cancer is located. The beams of radiation are then planned to conform to the exact shape of the tumor. With this type of radiation therapy technology, called IMRT, we"re able to reduce the amount of healthy tissue that"s affected by these treatments.
It"s typical for breast cancer patients receiving external beam radiation therapy to be given treatment five days a week for several weeks. In some cases, the radiation therapy treatments can be hypofractionated. Instead of one short session every weekday for 6-8 weeks, it"s possible to increase the dose per day to shorten the number of weeks that radiation therapy is needed. Some patients can be done with radiation in 4-5 weeks when hypofractionated therapy is used.
Each time you go to the cancer center for radiation therapy treatments, you"ll lie on a table in the radiation-delivery machine (called a linear accelerator). They"ll take some time to be sure you"re in the same spot in each treatment session. Try to wear clothes that are loose fitting and make it easy for you to lie down.
Internal Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer Treatment
The most common type of internal radiation therapy used to treat breast cancer is high-dose-rate (HDR) brachytherapy. It"s 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."
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