How Long Do Side Effects Last
Remember that the type of radiation side effects you might have depends on the prescribed dose and schedule. Most side effects go away within a few months of ending treatment. Some side effects may continue after treatment ends because it takes time for the healthy cells to recover from radiation.
Side effects might limit your ability to do some things. What you can do will depend on how you feel. Some patients are able to go to work or enjoy leisure activities while they get radiation therapy. Others find they need more rest than usual and cant do as much. If you have side effects that are bothersome and affecting your daily activities or health, the doctor may stop your treatments for a while, change the schedule, or change the type of treatment youre getting. Tell your cancer care team about any side affects you notice so they can help you with them.
Side Effects Of Radiation
Are you looking for information on the side effects of radiation for breast cancer? I received five weeks of radiation therapy after completing chemo in the spring of 2019.
The side effects of cancer treatments are so different for everyone, but I found radiation to be MUCH easier than my chemo treatments.
In this post, I will describe my experience with radiation therapy including tips and side effects. As always, please keep in mind that I am not a doctor.
The information stated in this post is merely my personal experiences with treatment for breast cancer.
What Can I Expect During Radiation Treatment
I went to radiation therapy every day for five weeks. It was a really simple and fast process.
I arrived each day around 9:00 in the morning and went straight back to the changing rooms. I had to wear a gown from the waist up.
They also made me take off my wig and hat during my sessions. Since I was just in the beginning stages of hair growing out after chemo, my head was still pretty bald.
I was a bit overcome with emotion during my first treatment. You lay on the machine in a room by yourself. I felt really exposed with my arms above my head, my breasts out in the open, and my head coverings removed.
My mind couldnt help but wander since there was nothing else I could really do. They played music into the room, so I eventually tried to just focus on that.
During the treatments, I laid perfectly still and held my breath or breathed whenever the therapists asked over the intercom. The machine moved to different spots over my body. I didnt feel any pain or anything during this process.
My left arm did get pretty numb a few times. This is the arm where four lymph nodes had been removed. My circulation wasnt the greatest in this arm so it fell asleep really easily. I cant imagine what it must be like for people who have way more than four nodes removed!
The numbness got a bit worse with radiation treatment, but it is normal now that its over. So, if you are dealing with a tight arm, know that there is an end in sight!
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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.
Coping With Emotional Side Effects
Daily radiation therapy treatments can trigger many different emotions. Fear, anger, or sadness can come up at any point in treatment. Coming to the treatment center every day can be a regular reminder of your diagnosis, fears about cancer coming back, and for many people, the entire cancer experience. In other words, it can feel overwhelming.
Fortunately, there are ways to get the treatment you need and still have some balance in your life. Katharine Winner, MSW, LSW, who works closely with radiation oncologists to provide emotional support to people receiving radiation therapy, says, âItâs important to find a balance between treatment and everyday life, when possible, to help maintain a sense of normalcy. We can help arrange your schedule to accommodate the important things outside of treatment: work, time with family, self-care.
We want to help find the best way to realign your schedule to accommodate radiation. Thereâs a reason why youâre doing radiation: to treat the cancer and prolong your life. Our goal is that treatment doesnât stall your life and that you can still do the things you love and enjoy doing. See how you can reschedule yourself to get a good balance for getting through treatment.
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Late Complications Of Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer: Evolution In Techniques And Risk Over Time
Zachary Brownlee1, Rashi Garg1, Matthew Listo1, Peter Zavitsanos1, David E. Wazer1,2, Kathryn E. Huber1
1Department of Radiation Oncology, Tufts Medical Center and Tufts University School of Medicine , Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University School of Medicine , , USA
Contributions: Conception and design: DE Wazer, KE Huber Administrative support: KE Huber Provision of study materials or patients: None Collection and assembly of data: None Data analysis and interpretation: None Manuscript writing: All authors Final approval of manuscript: All authors.
Abstract: Radiation therapy in combination with surgery, chemotherapy, and endocrine therapy as indicated, has led to excellent local and distant control of early stage breast cancers. With the majority of these patients surviving long term, mitigating the probability and severity of late toxicities is vital. Radiation to the breast, with or without additional fields for nodal coverage, has the potential to negatively impact long term cosmetic outcome of the treated breast as well as cause rare, but severe, complications due to incidental dosage to the heart, lungs and contralateral breast. The long-term clinical side-effects of breast radiation have been studied extensively. This review aims to discuss the risk of developing late complications following breast radiation and how modern techniques can be used to diminish these risks.
Keywords: Radiation breast cancer late toxicity
Heart Or Lung Problems
Some women experience lung inflammation years after radiation therapy. This is especially true if they have also had chemotherapy. If there is significant heart exposure because of left breast radiation, in some cases injury to the heart can occur, causing heart conditions or heart disease. This is not as common these days, thanks to greater understanding of this potential link.
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External Beam Radiation Therapy
EBRT is the most common type of radiation therapy for women with breast cancer. A machine outside the body focuses the radiation on the area affected by the cancer.
Which areas need radiation depends on whether you had a mastectomy or breast-conserving surgery and if the cancer has reached nearby lymph nodes.
- If you had a mastectomy and no lymph nodes had cancer cells, radiation will be focused on the chest wall, the mastectomy scar, and the places where any drains exited the body after surgery.
- If you had BCS, you will most likely have radiation to the entire breast . An extra boost of radiation to the area in the breast where the cancer was removed is often given if there is a high risk of the cancer coming back. The boost is often given after the treatments to the whole breast have ended. It uses the same machine, with lower amounts of radiation aimed at the tumor bed. Most women dont notice different side effects from boost radiation than from whole breast radiation.
- If cancer was found in the lymph nodes under the arm , this area may be given radiation, as well. Sometimes, the area treated might also include the nodes above the collarbone and the nodes beneath the breast bone in the center of the chest .
What Are The Types Of Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer
There are different ways to receive radiation therapy. Your healthcare provider will choose the best method based on the cancer location, type and other factors.
Types of radiation therapy for breast cancer include:
- External beam whole-breast irradiation: During external beam whole-breast radiation therapy, a machine called a linear accelerator sends beams of high-energy radiation to the involved breast. Most people get whole-breast radiation five days a week for one to six weeks. The time frame depends on factors including lymph node involvement. In some cases, intensity-modulated radiation therapy may be used.
- External beam partial-breast: This treatment directs radiation to the tumor site only, not the entire breast over 1 to 3 weeks with 3-dimensional conformal radiation or IMRT.
- Brachytherapy: Some people get internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy. Your provider places an applicator or catheter. A radioactive seed is moved into the tumor site. The seeds give off radiation for several minutes before your provider removes them. You receive two treatments every day for five days.
- Intraoperative:Intraoperative radiation therapy takes place in the operating room before your provider closes the surgical site. Your provider delivers a high dose of radiation to the tumor area of the exposed breast tissue.
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What Time Of Day Is Best For Radiation Therapy
New research from Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, to be presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2019 in Atlanta, reports that administering radiation treatments in the morning as opposed to later in the day can significantly reduce severity of mucositis and its related
Higher Risk Of Infections
All breast cancer therapies can weaken your immune response and raise your risk of infection. Common areas for infection include:
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for breast cancer can stop your body from making white blood cells, which fight infections. Try to stay out of large crowds and away from sick adults and children for 7 to 10 days after you have chemotherapy. Thats when you usually have the fewest white blood cells.
Contact your doctor right away if you get sick. You might notice:
- Colored mucus in saliva or nasal drainage
- Fever of 100.5 degrees F or higher
- Sore or burning throat
- Swelling, redness, warmth, or pus at injury site
- Cough or shortness of breath
If your white blood cell counts are too low, your doctor may give you a treatment called G-CSF or GM-CSF .
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How Fertility Might Be Affected
For women: Talk to your cancer care team about how radiation might affect your fertility . Its best to do this before starting treatment so you are aware of possible risks to your fertility.
Depending on the radiation dose, women getting radiation therapy in the pelvic area sometimes stop having menstrual periods and have other symptoms of menopause. Report these symptoms to your cancer care and ask them how to relieve these side effects.Sometimes menstrual periods will return when radiation therapy is over, but sometimes they do not.
See Fertility and Women With Cancer to learn more.
For men: Radiation therapy to an area that includes the testicles can reduce both the number of sperm and their ability to function. If you want to father a child in the future and are concerned about reduced fertility, talk to your cancer care team before starting treatment. One option may be to bank your sperm ahead of time.
See Fertility and Men With Cancer to learn more.
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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How Do I Prepare For My Treatments
Before your first radiation treatment, you will have a simulation appointment. This appointment will last approximately one to two hours. During this appointment, the doctor will identify the exact fields on your body to treat with radiation. This involves lying on a table while the radiation therapist marks the field with small dots made with permanent ink. Each dot is similar to a very small tattoo. You will not receive any radiation treatment during this appointment.
The Effects Of Breast Cancer On The Body
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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What Is Radiation Recall
Radiation recall is a rash that looks like a severe sunburn. It is rare but it can happen when certain types of chemotherapy are given during or soon after external-beam radiation therapy.
The rash appears on the part of the body that received radiation therapy. Symptoms may include redness, tenderness, swelling, wet sores, and peeling skin.
Typically, these effects start within days or weeks of starting radiation therapy. But they can also appear months or years later. Doctors treat radiation recall with medications called corticosteroids. Rarely, it may be necessary to wait until the skin heals to continue with chemotherapy.
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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If Youre Getting Radiation Therapy To The Brain
People with brain tumors often get stereotactic radiosurgery if the cancer is in only one or a few sites in the brain. Side effects depend on where the radiation is aimed. Some side effects might show up quickly, but others might not show up until 1 to 2 years after treatment. Talk with your radiation oncologist about what to watch for and when to call your doctor.
If the cancer is in many areas, sometimes the whole brain is treated with radiation. The side effects of whole brain radiation therapy may not be noticeable until a few weeks after treatment begins.
Radiation to the brain can cause these short-term side effects:
- Trouble with memory and speech
Some of these side effects can happen because radiation has caused the brain to swell. Medicines are usually given to prevent brain swelling, but its important to let your cancer care team know about headaches or any other symptoms. Treatment can affect each person differently, and you may not have these particular side effects.
Radiation to the brain can also have side effects that show up later usually from 6 months to many years after treatment ends. These delayed effects can include serious problems such as memory loss, stroke-like symptoms, and poor brain function. You may also have an increased risk of having another tumor in the area, although this is not common.
Talk with your cancer care team about what to expect from your specific treatment plan.