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Breast Cancer Radiation Side Effects

When To Call Your Radiation Oncologist Or Nurse

Side Effects of Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer?
  • You have a fever of 100.4 °F or higher.
  • You have chills.
  • Your skin is painful, peeling, blistering, moist, or weepy.
  • You have discomfort in the treatment area.
  • Your breast, underarm , or arm is getting more swollen.
  • You have any new or unusual symptoms.

Many people find that counseling helps them. Our counseling center offers counseling for individuals, couples, families, and groups. We can also prescribe medications to help if you feel anxious or depressed. To make an appointment, ask your healthcare provider for a referral or call the number above.

Integrative Medicine Servicewww.mskcc.org/integrativemedicineOur Integrative Medicine Service offers many services to complement traditional medical care, including music therapy, mind/body therapies, dance and movement therapy, yoga, and touch therapy. To schedule an appointment for these services, call .

You can also schedule a consultation with a healthcare provider in the Integrative Medicine Service. They will work with you to come up with a plan for creating a healthy lifestyle and managing side effects. To make an appointment, call .

Nutrition ServicesOur Nutrition Service offers nutritional counseling with one of our clinical dietitian nutritionists. Your clinical dietitian nutritionist will talk with you about your eating habits. They can also give advice on what to eat during and after treatment. To make an appointment, ask a member of your care team for a referral or call the number above.

Tobacco Treatment Program

What Should I Expect On My First Visit

When radiation therapy might be of help, a family doctor, surgeon or medical oncologist will refer patients to a radiation oncologist.

The doctor will first review your medical records and X-rays. A physical exam will be done.

The doctors will then talk to you about his/her findings and decide how you should be treated. If radiation will help you, the staff will schedule the needed studies to develop a treatment plan. This is sometimes referred to as simulation.

During simulation, the therapist takes X-rays of the part of your body to be treated to help decide how the radiation will be given. Using the X-ray as a guide to the treatment site, the therapist uses a marker to outline the treatment area on your skin. This area is often called a treatment port or treatment field. These marks are very important. They act as a map of the treatment area and the therapist uses them each day to guide your treatment. Sometimes after a few treatments, tiny permanent dots can be used to replace the painted marks on your skin.

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Side Effects Of Radiation For Breast Cancer

Radiation therapy is a common part of breast cancer treatment. It may be used alone, or in conjunction with other therapies. As with any kind of medical procedure, there can be side effects. Side effects can vary, depending on the kind of radiation therapy you have and your individual response to it.

Knowing what to expect, and potential side effects, can help you prepare for your treatment.

Skin changes are some of the main side effects of external radiation. These changes occur in the area being treated by the radiation. Its similar to a sunburn, and can include:

  • redness and itching
  • darkening of the skin

These changes happen gradually over the course of treatment, and in some people it can last for years after treatment. Some people also develop spider veins in certain areas months to years after treatment.

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What Is Radiation Therapy And How Does It Work

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It affects cells only in the part of the body that is treated with the radiation. Breast cancer radiation therapy may be used to destroy any remaining mutated cells that remain in the breast or armpit area after surgery.

Note: There are special situations in which radiation is used for women with metastatic breast cancer experiencing painful bone metastasis. This section however focused on the use of radiation for adjuvant therapy .

Who should expect to be prescribed radiation therapy and what is involved?Some people with Stage 0 and most people with Stage 1 invasive cancer and higher, who have had a lumpectomy, can expect radiation therapy to be a part of their treatment regimen.

What Is A Video Visit

Side effects of radiation for breast cancer: What to know

Through Video Visits, you can avoid traveling to and waiting in the doctors office by video conferencing with a provider instead. It is a quick, convenient way to communicate with medical professionals contributing to your care. Ask our providers today if this convenient service is appropriate for your needs.

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How Does Radiation Therapy Work

Radiation therapy uses special high-energy X-rays or particles to damage a cancer cells DNA. When a cancer cells DNA is damaged, it cant divide successfully and it dies.

Radiation therapy damages both healthy cells and cancer cells in the treatment area. Still, radiation affects cancer cells more than normal cells. Cancer cells grow and divide faster than healthy cells and also are less organized. Because of this, it’s harder for cancer cells to repair the damage done by radiation. So cancer cells are more easily destroyed by radiation, while healthy cells are better able to repair themselves and survive the treatment.

The treatment area may include the breast area, the lymph nodes, or another part of the body if the cancer has spread.

Radiation treatments are carefully planned to make sure you receive the greatest benefits and the fewest side effects possible.

There are two main types of radiation therapy used to treat breast cancer:

External beam radiation is given by a large machine called a linear accelerator. The machine aims a beam of radiation at the treatment area.

Internal radiation, called brachytherapy by doctors, uses a radioactive substance sealed in seeds or tiny tubes that are placed inside your body directly into the cancer or the place where the cancer was.

Your doctor will look at your pathology report and calculate your risk of breast cancer recurrence based on a number of factors, including:

What Emotional Responses Might I Expect

You may or may not experience anxiety or fear when you begin your treatment. Most people tell us that their concerns lessen as they adapt to the new environment and treatment.

Please speak to the staff if you feel that you need either emotional or practical support. There is a social worker on staff in the Radiation Oncology department. This may be a time when you think again about support groups or one-to-one consultation for the feelings that arise or to support your coping. For information about support services, please call the Breast Care Center at 353-7070.

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Causes And Risk Factors

Radiation therapy works by damaging DNA in cells. This damage isnt isolated to cancer cells, though normal cells can be damaged as well. While radiation therapy has improved significantly such that less damage occurs to healthy cells than in the past, some healthy tissues are inevitably exposed.

Several variables can increase or decrease your risk of developing long-term side effects of radiotherapy. Some of these are:

  • Your age at the time of radiation
  • The dose of radiation you receive
  • The number of treatment sessions
  • The type of cancer treated
  • The area of the body that receives radiation
  • Other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy
  • Other health conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes

Other Side Effects Of Breast Cancer Treatment

Side Effects of Radiation Therapy After Breast Cancer

Different people can have different responses to the same breast cancer treatments. Thatâs why itâs important to tell your health care team about all of your reactions. Some side effects you might want to look out for that are not listed above include:

Chemotherapy: May cause digestive issues , tingling, numbness, pain, skipped periods, or early menopause. Your doctor may be able to remedy many of these side effects with supportive medications.

Radiation: May cause pain, burning, swelling, and skin discoloration at the site of radiation . There may even be blistering or peeling of the skin. In rare cases, the radiation may burn a bit of the lung and cause it to swell . The risk changes depending on the size of the area that gets radiation. And the swelling in the lung tissue tends to go away with time.

Hormone therapy: The drug tamoxifen, which blocks estrogen from attaching to cancer cells, can lead to hot flashes and vaginal dryness, discharge, or bleeding. It may also be linked in very rare cases to cataracts, blood clots, and uterine cancer.

Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy drugs may cause flu-like symptoms — fever, chills, body aches, sore throat, runny nose — and GI issues like diarrhea.

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What To Expect With Internal Radiation

Before you get any internal radiation, youll meet with your radiation oncologist. They will:

  • do a physical exam
  • ask about your medical history
  • go over what your internal radiation treatment will entail

Most internal radiation, or brachytherapy, is given with a catheter. This is a small, flexible tube thats surgically placed into the space left from breast-conserving surgery.

At the end of the catheter is a device that can be inflated inside your breast so that it stays in place for the duration of the treatment.

During your treatment, radiation pellets or seeds are put down the tube and into the inflatable device. They usually stay there for about 10 to 20 minutes or longer, and then theyre removed. How long the radiation pellets stay in place depends on:

  • your type of cancer
  • other cancer treatments that youve had

Once your course of treatment is over, the catheter and inflatable device will be removed.

Radiation For Metastatic Breast Cancer

For women with breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, radiation can be used to help with symptoms in the affected area. Radiation is particularly useful for cancer that has spread to the bone and is causing pain. Radiation can help relieve pain in approximately 80 percent of women.

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Breast Cancer Radiation Treatment Faqs

Is breast cancer treatment possible without breast removal?

Yes and Radiation Therapy is the option that allows for what we call breast conservation, or conservative treatment. If you qualify for the treatment, you can be treated with a lumpectomy, followed by conservative radiation treatment, and you can keep your breast/s. It also is just as successful as a mastectomy, while being far less painful and risky.

How long is a radiation treatment for breast cancer?

It depends and timing ranges based on a variety of reasons. For the most part cases are short, as brief as 5 days to 2 weeks. However in some special cases where lymph nodes need treatment and/or the tumor is more advanced it can take up to 25-30 days of treatment.

What are the side effects of radiation therapy for breast cancer?

Radiation effects occur only in the treated area. In early cancer the only effects are minor redness or mild pigmentation on the skin of the treated area. If the tumor is advanced and if the dose of RT to skin needs to be higher than normal there may be a temporary reaction on the skin which is easily treated with topical creams.

What is the success rate of radiation therapy for breast cancer?

Success rate is as high 97-98 % in early cancer stages for the majority of patients

Do you lose your hair with radiation therapy for breast cancer?
What should you avoid during radiation?

Its best to avoid skin irritants, use mild soaps and creams that are recommended by the Doctor.

Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy

Long Term Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer

External beam radiation therapy is a non-invasive treatment with some short term and some longer-term side effects. Patients undergoing some weeks of treatment usually experience fatigue caused by the healthy tissue repairing itself and aside from this there can be no side effects at all. However many breast cancer patients develop a suntan-like change in skin color in the exact area being treated. As with a suntan, this darkening of the skin usually returns to normal in the one to two months after treatment. In some cases permanent changes in color and texture of the skin is experienced. Other side effects sometimes experienced with radiation can include:

  • muscle stiffness
  • tenderness in the area

After surgery, radiation and other treatments have been completed, many patients notice the affected breast seems smaller or seems to have shrunk. This is basically due to the removal of tissue during the lumpectomy operation.

The use of adjuvant radiation has significant potential effects if the patient has to later undergo breast reconstruction surgery. Fibrosis of chest wall skin from radiation negatively affects skin elasticity and makes tissue expansion techniques difficult. Traditionally most patients are advised to defer immediate breast reconstruction when adjuvant radiation is planned and are most often recommended surgery involving autologous tissue reconstruction rather than breast implants.

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How Is Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer Performed

Most people lie on their back during the treatment though some breast treatments are performed while lying on your stomach . You place your arm above your head .

During the treatment, your treatment team:

  • Positions and secures your body in the immobilization device. If you had a mastectomy, your provider might place a bolus on top of the treatment area to increase the radiation dose to the surface.
  • Lines up the machine with the first treatment field. To protect themselves from radiation exposure, providers leave the room. Your provider can still hear and see you.
  • Turns on the machine. You will hear a whirring noise, but you wont see the radiation beams. You must remain still. Depending on the radiation type and dose, treatment can take 30 seconds to several minutes.
  • Returns to the room to position the machine to treat a different treatment field. Most people get treatment on two to five fields each day.
  • Takes daily/weekly X-rays of the treatment field to make sure the radiation is hitting the correct area.

What Is Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is a commonly used therapy for many types of cancer. For breast cancer, radiation is typically used after surgery to help reduce the risk of cancer returning. It can also help treat a symptom, such as pain, in someone with cancer that has spread outside the breast.

During treatment, a dose of ionizing radiation is targeted at the tumor. It is often given each day, Monday through Friday, for one to six weeks. Each dose of radiation is referred to as a fraction.

Radiation damages the DNA inside the cells it’s hitting, which causes the cell’s death. Unfortunately, radiation can also damage healthy cells, leading to side effects. Some body tissues can handle radiation better than others, so side effects may occur quickly or appear later, even after radiation is done.

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Radiation Therapy And The Effects On The Heart

  • Heart Muscle Damage: When undergoing radiation treatments, there is a very small risk of damage to the heart muscle or the major blood vessels around the heart. This is a potential problem if you have had cancer in your left breast since the heart is on the left side of the chest. Ideally, the heart is either not within the radiation area or only a small amount of the heart will receive any radiation, which helps to lower the risk of significant damage.
  • Breathlessness/Dizziness: If your heart has been damaged by radiotherapy you may find that you get tired very easily or get breathless on exertion, like climbing stairs. You may also notice that you sometimes feel dizzy or get chest pains.

Its important to remember that these symptoms can be caused by many things and they arent always a result of damage to the heart. You will want to immediately consult your doctor if you experience any symptoms that may be heart-related.

A promising clinical trial is underway at the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center to determine if The Active Breath Control device will help to better protect women against heart-related side effects. The device provides an innovative way for the patients heart to be spared radiation by controlling her breathing during the actual radiation treatment.

The Effects Of Breast Cancer On The Body

Having radiotherapy for breast cancer – Part Three: Side Effects and Support

At first, breast cancer affects the breast area only. You may notice changes in your breasts themselves. Other symptoms arent so obvious until you detect them during a self-exam.

Sometimes your doctor may also see breast cancer tumors on a mammogram or other imaging machine before you notice symptoms.

Like other cancers, breast cancer is broken down into stages. Stage 0 is the earliest stage with the fewest noticeable symptoms. Stage 4 indicates the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

If breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it may cause symptoms in those particular areas, too. Affected areas may include the:

American Cancer Society , the most common sign of breast cancer is a newly formed mass or lump in your breast.

The mass or lump is usually irregularly shaped and painless. However, some cancerous masses can be painful and round in shape. This is why any lump or mass ought to be screened for cancer.

Invasive ductal carcinoma causes lumps and bumps in the breasts. This is a type of breast cancer that forms inside the milk ducts.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer. It makes up about 80 percent of all diagnoses. Its also more likely to spread to other areas of the body.

With breast cancer, your nipples may also undergo some noticeable changes.

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