Treatment Areas And Possible Side Effects
|Part of the body being treated||Possible side effects|
Healthy cells that are damaged during radiation treatment usually recover within a few months after treatment is over. But sometimes people may have side effects that do not improve. Other side effects may show up months or years after radiation therapy is over. These are called late effects. Whether you might have late effects, and what they might be, depends on the part of your body that was treated, other cancer treatments you’ve had, genetics, and other factors, such as smoking.Ask your doctor or nurse which late effects you should watch for. See the section on Late Effects to learn more.
- Reviewed:January 11, 2022
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Does Radiation Affect The Emotions
Nearly all patients who receive treatment for cancer feel some degree of emotional upset. “It’s not unusual to feel depressed, afraid, angry, frustrated, alone or helpless,” says Dr. Wilson. “Radiation therapy may affect the emotions indirectly through fatigue or changes in hormone balance, but the treatment itself is not a direct cause of mental distress.”
Many patients help themselves by talking about their feelings with a close friend, family member, chaplain, nurse, social worker or psychologist with whom they feel at ease. You may want to ask your doctor or nurse about meditation or relaxation exercises that could help you unwind and feel better. American Cancer Society programs can provide support. Groups such as the United Ostomy Association and the Lost Chord Club offer opportunities to meet with others who share the same problems and concerns. Some medical centers have formed peer support groups so that patients can meet to discuss their feelings and inspire each other.
Talk With Others Who Understand
MyBCTeam is the social network for people with breast cancer and their loved ones. On MyBCTeam, more than 58,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with breast cancer.
Have you undergone radiation therapy for breast cancer? Do you have any tips for managing its side effects? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.
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What Side Effects Occur With Radiation Therapy To The Breast And Chest
Radiation treatment to the chest may cause several changes. You will notice some of these changes yourself, and your treatment team will keep an eye on these and others. For example, you may find swallowing to be difficult or painful. You may develop a cough. Or you may develop a fever, notice a change in the color or amount of mucus when you cough, or feel short of breath. It is important to let your treatment team know right away if you have any of these symptoms. Your doctor also may check your blood counts regularly, especially if the radiation treatment area on your body is large. Just keep in mind that your doctor and nurse will be alert for these changes and will help you deal with them.
Your radiation therapy plan may include implants of radioactive material a week or two after external treatment is completed. You may have some breast tenderness or a feeling of tightness while the implants are in your breast. After they are removed, you are likely to notice some of the same effects that occur with external treatment. If so, follow the advice given above and let your doctor know about any problems that persist.
After 10 to 12 months, no further changes are likely to be caused by the radiation therapy. If you see new changes in breast size, shape, appearance, or texture after this time, report them to your doctor at once.
Pain And Skin Changes
During and just after treatment, your treated breast may be sore. Talk with your health care provider about using mild pain relievers such as ibuprofen, naproxen or acetaminophen to ease breast tenderness.
The treated breast may also be rough to the touch, red , swollen and itchy. Sometimes the skin may peel, as if sunburned. Your health care provider may suggest special creams to ease this discomfort.
Sometimes the skin peels further and the area becomes tender and sensitive. Its most common in the skin folds and the underside of the breast. If this occurs, let your radiation team know. They can give you creams and pads to make the area more comfortable until it heals.
Fatigue is common during radiation therapy and may last for several weeks after treatment ends.
Fatigue is mainly a short-term problem, but for some, it can persist .
You may feel like you dont have any energy and may feel tired all of the time. Resting may not help.
Regular exercise, even just walking for 20 minutes every day, may help reduce fatigue . Getting a good nights sleep is also important.
Talk with your health care provider if you are fatigued or have insomnia .
Learn more about fatigue and insomnia.
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Tips For Managing Skin Changes During Radiation Therapy
Areas of skin treated with radiation may become red or darker than their normal color and irritated. Skin changes from radiation therapy are often similar to what youd experience with a sunburn. You might also develop a rash called radiation dermatitis a common skin reaction of radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy may cause the treated skin to look and feel discolored, swollen, sensitive, dry, or itchy. Skin may also peel, blister, or form sores and present a risk of infection. Tell your doctor about any changes to your skin during radiation therapy there are always ways to manage these side effects, and the earlier you alert your doctor, the better.
MyBCTeam members have shared their experiences with skin problems during radiation. One member wrote, You wont feel much of anything at first. Over time, its like a gradual sunburn.
You can take care of skin in several ways during radiation therapy. Follow these tips and other suggestions from your doctor to help you feel more comfortable and decrease the risk of infections.
What Are Your Breast Cancer Treatment Options
Many patients are finding new sources of information and working to educate themselves when they have a serious illness like cancer. If you have read about an option and want to know more, be sure to ask. Your doctor will be able to explain the criteria for certain treatments and why they may or may not be a suitable option for your individual diagnosis For more information about our Breast Care Center or treatment options, please visit our website.
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Who Is Eligible For Hypo
- Standard external beam radiation, which usually entails approximately 6 weeks of daily radiation.
- Hypo-fractionated radiation using 3 to 4 weeks of daily radiation.
- Balloon breast brachytherapy using 1 week of twice-daily radiation.
If you need radiation treatment, talk to your doctor about short-course radiation treatment. Make sure you understand all your options.
Take Care Of Yourself During Treatment
Radiation affects each person differently. To help keep your energy up during radiation treatments:
- Get enough rest.
- Eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet.
- Pace yourself, and plan frequent rest periods.
Good nutrition will also help you recover from side effects, heal, and fight off infection. It may give you a sense of well-being, too. If you have a hard time eating, work with a dietitian to find ways to get the nutrients you need.
Many people feel fatigued after several weeks of treatment. Most often, this is mild. But some people feel more tired and may need to change their daily routines. Your doctor will let you know if they think you should limit your activities.
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Premature Menopause And Infertility
Use of chemotherapeutic agents and adjuvant HT is linked with premature menopause and infertility.38 Approximately 10% of BC survivors older than 45 experience chemotherapy-induced menopause, and tamoxifen use is associated with decreased fertility among premenopausal cancer survivors.39,40 Menopausal symptoms such vasomotor hot flashes are observed among 5070% of tamoxifen users. Symptoms are often more severe in younger patients due to the abrupt change in hormonal status.41
If Youre Getting Radiation Therapy To The Breast
If you have radiation to the breast, it can affect your heart or lungs as well causing other side effects.
Short-term side effects
Radiation to the breast can cause:
- Skin irritation, dryness, and color changes
- Breast soreness
- Breast swelling from fluid build-up
To avoid irritating the skin around the breasts, try to go without wearing a bra. If this isnt possible, wear a soft cotton bra without underwires.
If your shoulders feel stiff, ask your cancer care team about exercises to keep your shoulder moving freely.
Breast soreness, color changes, and fluid build-up will most likely go away a month or 2 after you finish radiation therapy. If fluid build-up continues to be a problem, ask your cancer care team what steps you can take. See Lymphedema for more information.
Long-term changes to the breast
Radiation therapy may cause long-term changes in the breast. Your skin may be slightly darker, and pores may be larger and more noticeable. The skin may be more or less sensitive and feel thicker and firmer than it was before treatment. Sometimes the size of your breast changes it may become larger because of fluid build-up or smaller because of scar tissue. These side effects may last long after treatment.
After about a year, you shouldnt have any new changes. If you do see changes in breast size, shape, appearance, or texture after this time, tell your cancer care team about them right away.
Less common side effects in nearby areas
Side effects of brachytherapy
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Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer May Have Long
Among women who received radiation therapy for left-sided breast cancer, 10.5% developed coronary artery disease over the next 27 years, researchers found. That was close to double the rate among women who had radiation for tumors in the right breast.
Experts said the findings, published recently in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: CardioOncology, are not unexpected.
Because of the heart’s anatomical position, the organ and its arteries are exposed to more radiation when a woman receives treatment for cancer in the left breast.
And previous studies have found that those women do have a higher long-term rate of coronary artery disease compared to women who receive treatment to the right breast.
But the new study focused on younger women, diagnosed before age 55, said researcher Gordon Watt, a postdoctoral fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
Those women are likely to live for many years after their breast cancer treatment, so it’s important to understand what kinds of long-term follow-up they will need for their overall health, according to Watt.
He stressed that the point is not to deter women from receiving radiation therapy.
The study included 972 women who received radiation for stage 1 or stage 2 breast cancer between 1985 and 2008.
Will My Appetite Be Affected
Many side effects can cause problems with eating and digesting food, but you always should try to eat enough to help damaged tissues rebuild themselves. It’s very important not to lose weight during radiation therapy so that your body can heal. Try to eat small meals often and eat a variety of different foods. Your doctor or nurse can tell you whether your treatment calls for a special diet and a dietitian will have a lot of ideas to help you maintain your weight.
If you have pain when you chew and swallow, your doctor may advise you to use a powdered or liquid diet supplement. Many of these products, available at the drugstore without prescription, are made in a variety of flavors. They are tasty when used alone, or they can be combined with other foods, such as pureed fruit, or added to milkshakes. Some of the companies that make diet supplements have produced recipe booklets to help you increase your nutrient intake. Ask your dietitian or pharmacist for further information.
What side effects occur with radiation therapy to the head and neck area? Some people who are having radiation to the head and neck have redness and irritation in the mouth, a dry mouth, difficulty in swallowing, changes in taste or nausea. Try not to let these symptoms keep you from eating.
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If Youre Getting Radiation Therapy To The Head Or Neck
People who get radiation to the head and neck might have side effects such as:
- Soreness in the mouth or throat
How to care for your mouth during treatment
If you get radiation therapy to the head or neck, you need to take good care of your teeth, gums, mouth, and throat. Here are some tips that may help you manage mouth problems:
- Avoid spicy and rough foods, such as raw vegetables, dry crackers, and nuts.
- Dont eat or drink very hot or very cold foods or beverages.
- Dont smoke, chew tobacco, or drink alcohol these can make mouth sores worse.
- Stay away from sugary snacks.
- Ask your cancer care team to recommend a good mouthwash. The alcohol in some mouthwashes can dry and irritate mouth tissues.
- Rinse your mouth with warm salt and soda water every 1 to 2 hours as needed.
- Sip cool drinks often throughout the day.
- Eat sugar-free candy or chew gum to help keep your mouth moist.
- Moisten food with gravies and sauces to make it easier to eat.
- Ask your cancer care team about medicines to help treat mouth sores and control pain while eating.
If these measures are not enough, ask your cancer care team for advice. Mouth dryness may be a problem even after treatment is over. If so, talk to your team about what you can do.
How to care for your teeth during treatment
Radiation treatment to your head and neck can increase your chances of getting cavities. This is especially true if you have dry mouth as a result of treatment.
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.
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Use Gentle Skin Care Products
Your skin will be especially sensitive while undergoing radiation. Follow your cancer care teams recommendations for which products you can use during this time. In general, its best to avoid applying strongly scented products, which can cause irritation in some people, directly on the treated breast. You can use lotions or perfumes anywhere else on your body.
Look for packaging that says fragrance-free instead of unscented. Although unscented products may not have an obvious scent, they may still contain fragrances to mask the smell of other chemicals.
Accelerated Partial Breast Irradiation
After whole breast radiation or even after surgery alone, most breast cancers tend to come back very close to the area where the tumor was removed . For this reason, some doctors are using accelerated partial breast irradiation in selected women to give larger doses over a shorter time to only one part of the breast compared to the entire breast . Since more research is needed to know if these newer methods will have the same long-term results as standard radiation, not all doctors use them. There are several different types of accelerated partial breast irradiation:
- Intraoperative radiation therapy : In this approach, a single large dose of radiation is given to the area where the tumor was removed in the operating room right after BCS . IORT requires special equipment and is not widely available.
- 3D-conformal radiotherapy : In this technique, the radiation is given with special machines so that it is better aimed at the tumor bed. This spares more of the surrounding normal breast tissue. Treatments are given twice a day for 5 days or daily for 2 weeks.
- Intensity-modulated radiotherapy : IMRT is like 3D-CRT, but it also changes the strength of some of the beams in certain areas. This gets stronger doses to certain parts of the tumor bed and helps lessen damage to nearby normal body tissues.
- Brachytherapy: See brachytherapy below.
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