Radiation therapy for breast cancer

In the treatment of breast cancer, radiation therapy is always combined with surgical treatment if a breast conserving surgery has been performed or if the cancer has spread locally, reaching the lymph node areas nearby. The objective of postoperative radiation therapy is to destroy any microscopic cancerous growths left in the surgical site or the lymph node areas nearby.

If chemotherapies are given after surgery, the radiation therapy is given only after these treatments.

Computed tomography is performed for dose planning and targeting of radiation therapy for breast cancer. The radiation therapy is customized for each patient.

Radiation therapy on the whole breast following breast conserving surgery reduces local relapses, increases the disease-free lifetime, and reduces the breast cancer mortality rate.

Benefits, Drawbacks, and Recovery from Treatment

Modern radiation therapy planning and implementation technology aims to make the radiation doses to normal tissues (such as those of the lungs or the heart) located near the target area of the radiation therapy as low as possible. In order to minimize the radiation dose received by the heart, efforts are made to perform sinistral breast radiation therapy either in arrested inspiration or by respiratory-gated means.

Transient adverse effects (such as redness or possible flaking of the skin and swelling of the breast) caused by radiation therapy often appear already during treatment, but they will generally disappear within one month of the end of treatment. However, long-term adverse effects may appear months or years after treatment. Such late reactions to radiation appear slowly in dividing and non-dividing tissues, such as those found in the lungs.

Lung inflammation caused by radiation therapy is rare, but it is a possible reaction to postoperative radiation therapy for breast cancer. Usually, it will heal spontaneously over time.

Like other risk factors, such as axillary lymph node removal, radiation therapy on the axillary lymph nodes may cause a lymphatic circulation disorder, which may lead to the swelling of the upper extremity.

Duration of Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy following breast-conserving surgery is generally given to the breast area as a treatment consisting of 15–16 sessions. A longer radiation therapy period of 25–28 sessions is also often used when treating the lymph node areas nearby.

Additionally, a booster dose is recommended for the surgical cavity area of patients under the age of 50 with surgically treated breast cancer and patients whose surgically treated cancerous tumor has been found to involve an increased risk of a local relapse.

Radiation therapy following breast removal is generally given as a treatment consisting of 25–28 sessions if such therapy has been considered necessary, for example, due to the large size of the surgically treated tumor, the young age of the patient or the spreading of the cancer to the lymph nodes.

After radiation therapy, the patient can be discharged immediately and he or she is able to drive a vehicle.