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Radiation Treatment For Breast Cancer Side Effects

What Emotional Responses Might I Expect

Radiation Side Effects Common In Breast Cancer Treatment

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.

What Are 5 Harmful Effects Of Radiation

Here are a few common health effects or harmful effects of radiation on the human body.

  • Hair. Loss of hair fall occurs when exposure to radiation is higher than 200 rems.
  • Heart and Brain. Intense exposure to radiation from 1000 to 5000 rems will affect the functioning of the heart.
  • Reproductive Tract.

Does Radiation Affect The Emotions

Nearly all patients who receive treatment for cancer feel some degree of emotional upset. Its 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.

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How Long Does It Take To Recover From Radiation Treatment

Radiation treatments can be taxing on the body. Your age and overall health will play a role in how long recovery takes. Some side effects, such as fatigue, diarrhea, and pain with urination, should start to diminish in about two weeks. You may continue to have side effects from radiation, even after youve recovered from treatment.

Late Effects Of Radiotherapy For Breast Cancer

Side effects of radiation for breast cancer: What to know

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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Will Radiation Therapy Cause My Hair To Fall Out

Only people who get radiation to the scalp or the brain may have hair loss. Others won’t. If it does happen, itâs usually sudden and comes out in clumps. In most cases, your hair will grow back after therapy stops, but it may be thinner or have a different texture.

Some people choose to cut their hair short before treatment begins to make less weight on the hair shaft. If you lose hair on top of your head, be sure to wear a hat or a scarf to protect your scalp from the sun when you go outside. If you decide to buy a wig, ask the doctor to write a prescription for one and check to see if it’s covered by your insurance or is a tax-deductible expense.

Problems Moving Your Arm And Shoulder

Radiotherapy might make it harder to move your arm and shoulder. This can affect your activities and work. It usually improves when the treatment finishes. Your nurse or physiotherapist can give you exercises to help.

Its important to continue the arm exercise you were shown after your surgery. This will make it easier for you to lift your arm to the correct position during radiotherapy. It can also help stop your arm and shoulder from becoming stiff.

  • There is help available ask the hospital for support
  • Talk to your friends and family about how you are feeling
  • Ask about local support groups
  • Your GP or hospital can provide counselling
  • You can get help and support online through forums

If you’re experiencing a side effect that hasn’t been covered in this video, you can find more information on the Cancer Research UK website.

On screen text: For more information go to: cruk.org/radiotherapy/side-effects

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How To Prepare For Breast Cancer Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy can be physically and emotionally exhausting. It may also cause some uncomfortable side effects, especially on your skin. There are a few things you can do to prepare for breast cancer radiation therapy to help ease unwanted effects and speed your recovery.

Recruit help

Radiation therapy can cause extreme fatigue, so reach out to people who can help you keep up with daily tasks and errands. Family, friends, or neighbors can help watch your children, drop off a meal, or help with daily chores.

Stock up on skincare

Previously, doctors recommended not using topical skincare treatments during radiation therapy due to fears it may increase the skin’s radiation dose. But studies¹ have confirmed this is not the case when using approved creams moderately.

Talk to your oncology team about which lotions they’d recommend to help soothe your skin after radiation. Apply the cream moderately all over, not just on the areas affected by the radiation.

Rest as much as possible

Both before and after radiation therapy. It’s likely you won’t have much energy to do much, so inform friends and family when you are too tired to participate in activities. Be gentle with yourself as your body recovers.

Nourish your body

Fill your cupboards and fridge with healthy, nourishing, and easy-to-prepare meals. Try to get extra protein and eat foods high in antioxidants, such as blueberries, strawberries, and kale.

Stay comfortable

When Is Radiation Therapy Used For Breast Cancer

Side Effects of Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer?

Radiation therapy may be recommended as a treatment option following a lumpectomy or to treat more advanced stages of cancer. It may also be suggested to use other treatments, such as chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy. This is called neoadjuvant therapy and is largely dependent on each patients individualized treatment plan.

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External Beam Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer Patients

External beam radiation therapy uses high-energy rays onto the tumor or cancerous location. Technology and software are used to determine the exact area of the body where the cancerous cells are located in order to avoid treating healthy cells with radiation. The patient lies down on a table with the linear accelerator used to deliver radiation therapy. Each time, the machine is pointed to the same location on the body, with each session lasting only 15-30 minutes. Typically the process of external beam radiation therapy is completed over several weeks.

A newer approach to external beam radiation therapy is hypofractionated radiation therapy. Your radiation oncologist may be able to deliver the same amount of radiation treatments over a shorter time frame, such as 4-5 weeks rather than 6-8 weeks. This is done by using a higher dose in each session. This is often an option for breast cancer patients.

What Are The Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer

While the initial treatment is painless, both external beam and brachytherapy radiation can have short and long-term side effects. Knowing what you could experience and how to manage those side effects can aid in your recovery process.

Short term effects of radiation therapy

The most common side effect after radiation therapy is fatigue. The level of fatigue will vary from person to person, depending on your lifestyle and treatment protocol. You’ll want to get as much rest as you can throughout the radiation therapy process.

Consider asking friends or family to help with household tasks or errands. It may also be helpful to join a breast cancer support group to get tips and support from others who have also experienced the effects of radiation therapy.

Another common side effect of external beam radiation treatment is changes to the skin in the treatment area. You might find that the skin is red and tender immediately after the treatment. After a few days, the skin might start to blister, peel, or feel itchy.

These side effects should go away within a few weeks post-treatment. If they become bothersome, talk to your oncology team. They can recommend lotions to help alleviate the dry, itchy sensation. It is important not to expose the treatment area to sunlight and avoid hot showers or baths.

Long term effects of radiation therapy

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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

Radiation For Metastatic Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Radiation Therapy Burns

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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Radiation Therapy And Sun Exposure

During radiation treatment, its best to keep the treated area completely out of the sun. This can be especially difficult if youre having radiation therapy in areas or seasons with warmer weather. To help avoid sun exposure:

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    Wear clothing or a bathing suit with a high neckline, or wear a rash guard top.

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    Try to keep the area covered whenever you go outside. An oversized cotton shirt works well and allows air to circulate around the treated area.

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    Avoid chlorine, which is very drying and can make any skin reactions youre having worse. Chlorine is used to disinfect most pools and hot tubs.

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    If you do want to swim in a pool, you might want to spread petroleum jelly on the treated area to keep the chlorine away from your skin.

After your radiation treatment is completed, the treated skin may be more sensitive to the sun than it was in the past, so you might need to take extra protective steps when you go out in the sun:

How Can I Handle Fatigue

The fatigue you feel from cancer and radiation therapy is different from other times you may have felt tired. Itâs an exhaustion that doesnât get better with rest and can keep you from doing the things you normally do, like going to work or spending time with family and friends. It also can seem different from day to day, which makes it hard to plan around it. It can even change how well you’re able to follow your cancer treatment plan.

Let your doctor know if youâre struggling with fatigue. They might be able to help. There are also things you can do to feel better:

  • Take care of your health. Be sure you’re taking your medications the way you’re supposed to. Get plenty of rest, be as active as you can, and eat the right foods.
  • Work with a counselor or take a class at your cancer treatment center to learn ways to conserve energy, reduce stress, and keep yourself from focusing on the fatigue.
  • Save your energy for the activities that are most important to you. Tackle them first when youâre feeling up to it.
  • Keep a balance between rest and activities. Too much bed rest can make you more tired. But don’t over-schedule your days without giving yourself breaks.
  • Ask for help from family and friends. If fatigue is interfering with your job, talk with your boss or HR department and ask about taking some time off from work or making adjustments in your schedule.

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Is Radiation Therapy Painful For Breast Cancer

The radiation treatment procedure is painless, but it may cause some skin discomfort over time. When treating early-stage breast cancer, radiation therapy is often given after surgery. Surgery is done to remove the cancer, and radiation is done to destroy any cancer cells that may remain after surgery.

Treatment Areas And Possible Side Effects

Side Effects of Radiation Therapy After Breast Cancer
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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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.

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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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.

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