Changes To The Look And Feel Of The Breast
Radiation therapy may cause the breast to feel firmer and to be slightly smaller in volume. There may be some permanent discolouration of the skin in the treatment area and visible small red blood vessels may develop.
Your radiation oncologist will discuss with you the very small risks of long-term damage to normal tissue in the treatment area, such as changes in the lungs underlying the chest wall, rib fracture, heart problems if you have a left-sided breast cancer, nerve damage causing weakness in the arm, or lymphoedema of the arm or breast. There is an extremely small risk of inducing a second cancer in the treatment area many years after your breast cancer radiotherapy.
It is felt that the benefit of radiation therapy using modern radiation techniques outweighs the potential risks of treatment and your radiation oncologist will discuss this with you.
What Are The Different Kinds Of Radiation
The goal of radiation therapy is to get enough radiation into the body to kill the cancer cells while preventing damage to healthy tissue. There are several ways to do this. Depending on the location, size and type of cancer, you may receive one or a combination of techniques. Your treatment team will help you to decide which treatments are best for you. Radiation therapy can be delivered in two ways, externally and internally. During external beam radiation therapy, the radiation oncology team uses a machine to direct high-energy X-rays at the cancer. Internal radiation therapy, or brachytherapy, involves placing radioactive sources inside your body.
Other Ways Of Giving Radiotherapy
Intraoperative radiotherapy uses low-energy x-rays given from a machine in the operating theatre during breast-conserving surgery.
Radiotherapy is given directly to the area inside the body where the cancer was, once it has been removed. Usually a single dose of radiation is given in one treatment, but it may be necessary to have a short course of external beam radiotherapy to the rest of the breast.
Intraoperative radiotherapy is not suitable for everyone and is not standard treatment.
Brachytherapy involves placing a radiation source inside the body in the area to be treated. Its usually only given as part of a clinical trial.
Narrow, hollow tubes or a small balloon are put in the body where the breast tissue has been removed. Radioactive wires are inserted through the tubes or into the balloon. The radioactive wires may be left in place for a few days or inserted for a short time each day.
Depending on the type of brachytherapy you have, you may need to have your treatment as an inpatient and be kept in a single room for a short time due to the radiation.
If brachytherapy is an option your specialist will discuss it fully with you.
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Cancer Doctors Usually Treat Cancer With Radiation Therapy Surgery Or Medications Including Chemotherapy Hormonal Therapy And/or Biologic Therapy Either Alone Or In Combination
If your cancer can be treated with radiation, you will be referred to a radiation oncologist a doctor who specializes in treating patients with radiation therapy. Your radiation oncologist will work with your primary doctor and other cancer specialists, such as surgeons and medical oncologists, to oversee your care. He or she will discuss the details of your cancer with you, the role of radiation therapy in your overall treatment plan and what to expect from your treatment.
How Long Does Radiation Therapy Typically Last
With breast cancer, radiation therapy usually begins about 3 to 4 weeks after breast-conserving therapy or a mastectomy, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
External beam radiation is typically given once a day, 5 days a week, for anywhere from 2 to 10 weeks on an outpatient basis. This means you can go home after the treatment.
Sometimes the schedule for external radiation can differ from the standard schedule. Some examples of this include the following:
- Accelerated fractionation. Treatment is given in larger daily or weekly doses, reducing the duration of the treatment.
- Hyperfractionation. Smaller doses of radiation are given more than once a day.
- Hypofractionation. Larger doses of radiation are given once daily to reduce the number of treatments.
For brachytherapy , treatments are usually given twice a day for 5 days in a row as outpatient procedures. Your specific treatment schedule will depend on what your oncologist has ordered.
A less common treatment option is to leave the radiation in your body for hours or days. With this type of treatment, youll stay in the hospital to protect others from the radiation.
Common side effects of external beam radiation therapy for breast cancer include:
- sunburn-like skin irritation in the treatment area
- dry, itchy, tender skin
- swelling or heaviness in your breast
Skin changes and changes to your breast tissue usually go away within a few months to a year.
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What Do Radiation Burns Look And Feel Like
According to the National Cancer Institute, people may experience skin changes over the course of radiation treatment, including:
- Redness or darkening of the skin: The skin may become red on white skin, and darken on darker skin. It can also be painful.
- Dry, peeling, or blistered skin: A persons skin in the treatment area may become extremely dry and peel. If the skin peels faster than it is able to heal, a person may develop blistered sores.
- Swollen skin: The skin in the treatment area can swell and appear puffy.
- Excessive itching: The skin in the treatment area can itch intensely. It is important that people avoid scratching, which can lead to skin breakdown and infection.
- Moist reaction: The skin in the treated area can become sore, wet, and infected. This most often occurs under the breasts, where there are skin folds.
Skin changes happen gradually during the course of radiation treatment, and may only occur in certain areas.
Breastcancer.org notes that people are more likely to experience them on parts of the body where skin touches, such as under the breast or the armpit. It can also occur in places that have had more sun exposure, such as the upper chest.
Some people experience a change in skin color that lasts for years after treatment.
Brachytherapy Delivered Via Implantable Device
The doctor places a device inside the breast at the time of the surgery or shortly thereafter which carries targeted radiation to the tissue where the cancer originally grew . This type of radiation may take only one treatment delivered in the operating room or may take 5-7 days given on an outpatient basis in the radiation therapy department.In nearly all cases, the appropriate method is determined by the radiation oncologist based on the location and size of the tumor.
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Side Effects Of Chemotherapy
You may experience side effects with chemotherapy. The kind of side effects you have will depend on the type of chemotherapy youre getting and any other health conditions you may already have.
Some side effects of chemotherapy include:
- pain and numbness in limbs
Its important to remember that different chemo medications cause different side effects, and everyone reacts to chemo differently.
The Bottom Line: Expert Wound Care For Radiation Wounds
As a patient of radiation therapy, you need ongoing and personalized wound care to help you overcome radiation injuries and side effects. You deserve to get that help in the comfortable, refreshing, and attractive environment offered by R3 Wound Care and Hyperbarics.
With five convenient locations throughout Texas, R3 Wound Care provides advanced therapies like HBOT previously only available at large medical institutions. Every HBOT treatment at R3 occurs in a clear acrylic chamber where you relax, recline, and enjoy a good book or movie for a few hours.
Visit the R3 location closest to you today to learn more about this natural alternative healing treatment and its potential to finally liberate you from your painful radiation side effects.
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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.
- Brachytherapy/Internal Radiation
- 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. Read about brachytherapy.
Another type of radiation therapy, called intraoperative radiation therapy, is a type of partial-breast radiation. With intraoperative radiation therapy, the entire course of radiation is delivered at one time during breast cancer surgery. Read more about intraoperative radiation therapy.
Late Effects Of Radiotherapy For Breast Cancer
Radiotherapy to the breast may cause side effects that happen months or years after radiotherapy. They are called late effects.
Newer ways of giving radiotherapy are helping reduce the risk of these late effects happening. If you are worried about late effects, talk to your cancer doctor or specialist nurse.
The most common late effect is a change in how the breast looks and feels.
Radiotherapy can damage small blood vessels in the skin. This can cause red, spidery marks to show.
After radiotherapy, your breast may feel firmer and shrink slightly in size. If your breast is noticeably smaller, you can have surgery to reduce the size of your other breast.
If you had breast reconstruction, using an implant before radiotherapy, you may need to have the implant replaced.
It is rare for radiotherapy to cause heart or lung problems, or problems with the ribs in the treated area. This usually only happens if you had treatment to your left side.
Tell your cancer doctor if you notice any problems with your breathing, or have any pain in the chest area.
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What Are Some Of The Possible Risks Or Complications
Minor complications include:
- Slight swelling of the breast during radiotherapy. This usually goes away within six to 12 months.
- The skin becomes darker during the course of radiotherapy, similar to tanning from the sun. In most cases, this also fades gradually over six to 12 months.
- Most women will have aches or pains from time to time in the treated breast or the muscles surrounding the breast, even years after treatment. The reason why this happens is not clear however, these pains are harmless, although annoying. They are NOT a sign that the cancer is reappearing.
- Rarely, patients may develop a rib fracture years following treatment. This occurs in less than one percent of patients treated by modern approaches. These heal slowly by themselves.
More serious complications include:
What Are The Cosmetic Results Of Breast Conservation Therapy
Eighty percent to 90 percent of women treated with modern surgery and radiotherapy techniques have excellent or good cosmetic results that is, little or no change in the treated breast in size, shape, texture or appearance compared with what it was like before treatment.
Patients with large breasts seem to have greater shrinkage of the breast after radiation therapy than do patients with smaller breasts. However, this problem usually can be overcome with the use of higher x-ray energies or with IMRT. Partial breast radiation using brachytherapy can also be considered if the patient has a small early-stage tumor. This treatment is still undergoing clinical investigation. Certain single institution studies on brachytherapy and intraoperative radiation have shown some promising results. You would need to discuss this with your doctor before or shortly after surgery to determine if you qualify for partial breast radiation.
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When Is One Therapy Better Than The Other
Sometimes, one of these treatments can be more effective than the other in treating a particular type of cancer. Other times, chemo and radiation can actually complement each other and be given together.
When you meet with your cancer care team, your oncologist will give you the options that will be most effective in treating your type of cancer.
Together with your cancer care team, you can decide on the treatment option thats right for you.
Chemo and radiation are sometimes used together to treat certain types of cancers. This is called concurrent therapy. This may be recommended if your cancer:
- cannot be removed with surgery
- is likely to spread to other areas of your body
- isnt responding to one particular type of treatment
With both chemotherapy and radiation, theres a high likelihood of experiencing some side effects. But that doesnt mean you cant do anything about them.
Here are some tips to cope with the side effects of cancer treatments:
Always talk to your healthcare team about any side effects you may have. Theyll be able to give you specific advice and instructions on what you can do to help relieve your symptoms.
What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor
Coping with a diagnosis of cancer and researching the various treatment options can be a stressful experience. To assist you in this process, below is a list of questions you may want to ask your radiation oncologist if you are considering radiation therapy.
Questions to ask before treatment
- What type and stage of cancer do I have?
- What is the purpose of radiation treatment for my type of cancer?
- How will the radiation therapy be given? Will it be external beam or brachytherapy? What do the treatments feel like?
- For how many weeks will I receive radiation? How many treatments will I receive per week?
- What are the chances that radiation therapy will work?
- Can I participate in a clinical trial? If so, what is the trial testing? What are my benefits and risks?
- What is the chance that the cancer will spread or come back if I do not have radiation therapy?
- Will I need chemotherapy, surgery or other treatments? If so, in what order will I receive these treatments? How soon after radiation therapy can I start them?
- How should I prepare for this financially?
- What are some of the support groups I can turn to during treatment?
- If I have questions after I leave here, who can I call?
- Will radiation therapy affect my ability to have children?
- Do you take my insurance?
Questions to ask during Treatment
Questions to ask After Treatment Ends
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Easing Worries About Radiation Therapy
Its normal to worry about possible side effects of radiation therapy.
Talk with your health care provider about your concerns.
Your provider may be able to suggest a hospital social worker, patient navigator, psychologist or support group to help ease anxiety related to radiation therapy .
With any standard radiation therapy, you will not be radioactive when you leave the radiation treatment center. You will not pose any radiation risk to your family or your pets.
Learn more about support groups.
What Should I Expect Before Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer
Most people who have breast cancer treatment receive external beam radiation therapy. The goal is to destroy any remaining cancerous cells while protecting healthy tissue.
Before your first treatment, you will have a planning session . This simulation helps your provider map out the treatment area while sparing normal tissues . This session may take one hour or longer.
During the simulation, your provider:
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Age Is A Major Factor In Determining What Type Of Radiation Therapy Women Should Receive
The good news is that both whole-breast and partial-breast radiation therapy after a lumpectomy are effective in preventing early-stage cancers from recurring, according to Dr. McCormick. But partial-breast radiation therapy may not be right for younger women who have not gone through menopause. Breast cancer in these women tends to be more aggressive and less likely to respond to treatments.
Im very comfortable offering partial-breast irradiation to older women, Dr. McCormick says. Its a good choice for people who are interested in a short course of radiation and are not as worried about cosmetic issues.
Even for older women, though, its important to look at all the individual factors, she explains. Women should talk to their doctor in order to make the best choice.
Internal Breast Cancer Radiation
Internal breast cancer radiation is also known as brachytherapy. You doctor will place a device that contains radioactive seeds in the area of the breast where the cancer was found. For a short time, internal radiation targets only the area where breast cancer is most likely to return. This causes fewer side effects. The treatment takes a week to complete.
If youve had breast-saving surgery, a doctor may treat you with both internal and external radiation to increase the boost of radiation. Doctors may only perform internal radiation as a form of accelerated partial breast radiation to speed up treatment.
Potential side effects of internal radiation include:
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