Change In Breast Shape Size And Colour
If youve had radiotherapy after breast-conserving surgery, the breast tissue on the treated side may feel firmer than before, or the breast may be smaller and look different.
Although this is normal, you may be concerned about differences in the size of your breasts, or worry that the difference is noticeable when youre dressed.
You can discuss this with your breast surgeon to see if anything can be done to make the difference less noticeable.
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:
Wear clothing or a bathing suit with a high neckline, or wear a rash guard top.
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.
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.
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:
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 hearts 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 its 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.
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Radiation For Breast Cancer
Radiation therapy is treatment with high-energy rays that destroy cancer cells. Some women with breast cancer will need radiation, in addition to other treatments.
Depending on the breast cancer’s stage and other factors, radiation therapy can be used in several situations:
- After breast-conserving surgery, to help lower the chance that the cancer will come back in the same breast or nearby lymph nodes.
- After amastectomy, especially if the cancer was larger than 5 cm , if cancer is found in many lymph nodes, or if certain surgical margins, such as the skin or muscle, have cancer cells.
- If cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones, spinal cord, or brain.
Types Of Radiation For Breast Cancer
External-beam radiation therapy is the most common form of radiation treatment for breast cancer. In this approach, a machine called a linear accelerator, or LINAC, produces radiation. The radiation is delivered as precisely targeted x-ray beams.
At MSK, we deliver external-beam radiation therapy in a variety of ways. These approaches are designed to tailor the radiation treatments as much as possible to the exact size and location of your cancer, specifically aiming at tumor cells while avoiding side effects.
We also offer internal radiation therapy in the form of brachytherapy. Brachytherapy is generally reserved for women receiving partial-breast irradiation after lumpectomy.
Learn more about the techniques our breast cancer radiation team frequently recommends.
In this method, patients lie on their stomach . Radiation is directed to the affected breast as it hangs through an opening in the treatment table. This approach may reduce radiation exposure to nearby vital organs, such as the heart and lungs. Prone breast radiation has been shown to reduce radiation burn on the skin. Research has also shown that this therapy is especially useful for women with large breasts.
In this approach, our experienced radiation therapists guide women with cancer in the left breast through a breathing technique called deep inspiration breath hold . It minimizes the risk of injury to the heart.
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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.
Changes In The Shape Size And Feel Of The Breast
In time radiotherapy can cause the breast tissue to change shape or shrink in size a little. This can happen to your natural breast tissue or a reconstructed breast.
After radiotherapy, the breast might feel hard and less stretchy. This is due to a side effect called radiation fibrosis. This side effect is usually mild.
Sometimes the breast can shrink a little over time. This is because radiotherapy can make the breast tissue contract so that the breast gradually gets smaller.
An implant in a reconstructed breast can become hard and may need replacing.
Let your surgeon know of any changes, they may be able to do some minor surgical adjustments to improve the look.
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Preventing Heart And Lung Damage
After my breasts were a decent size, one of the radiation therapists made my . I laid on my back on the big radiation machine. I had to reach both hands above my head and hold on to handlebar type things.
Since my cancer was in my left breast, my doctors were concerned about my heart being radiated. They had me do deep breathing exercises where I held my breath for different lengths of time.
The longest I ever had to hold it was during this CT scan appointment. The actual radiation sessions went much faster.
The therapist used a sharpie marker to make crosses on my chest and abdomen. I was not supposed to wash these off for the entire five weeks.
Some of them did fade, but the therapists would freshen them up at my appointments. During these five weeks, I made sure to wear shirts that had high collars. Otherwise, you could see a big green x near my collarbone.
What Is Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy rays or particles to treat disease. It works by killing tumor cells or inhibiting their growth and division.
Through years of clinical trials, radiation oncologists have studied the use of radiation therapy to treat breast cancer. These studies have led to the widespread use of effective and tolerable doses of radiation therapy. It is used to treat early stage breast cancer along with surgery for local control of disease. It may be used in more advanced breast cancer to control the disease or to treat symptoms, such as pain.
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What Can You Not Do During Radiation Treatment
Avoid raw vegetables and fruits, and other hard, dry foods such as chips or pretzels. Its also best to avoid salty, spicy or acidic foods if you are experiencing these symptoms. Your care team can recommend nutrient-based oral care solutions if you are experiencing mucositis or mouth sores caused by cancer treatment.
If Youre Getting Radiation Therapy To The Abdomen
If you are getting radiation to your stomach or some part of the abdomen , you may have side effects such as:
Eating or avoiding certain foods can help with some of these problems, so diet planning is an important part of radiation treatment of the stomach or abdomen. Ask your cancer care team about what you can expect, and what medicines you should take to help relieve these problems. Check with your cancer care team about any home remedies or over-the-counter drugs youre thinking about using.
These problems should get better when treatment is over.
Some people feel queasy for a few hours right after radiation therapy. If you have this problem, try not eating for a couple of hours before and after your treatment. You may handle the treatment better on an empty stomach. If the problem doesnt go away, ask your cancer care team about medicines to help prevent and treat nausea. Be sure to take the medicine exactly as you are told to do.
If you notice nausea before your treatment, try eating a bland snack, like toast or crackers, and try to relax as much as possible. See Nausea and Vomiting to get tips to help an upset stomach and learn more about how to manage these side effects.
Many people have diarrhea at some point after starting radiation therapy to the abdomen. Your cancer care team may prescribe medicines or give you special instructions to help with the problem. Diet changes may also be recommended, such as:
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External Radiation Side Effects
External beam radiation therapy also results in some side effects later:
- After radiation therapy, some women may notice their breasts becoming smaller to skin becoming swollen or firm.
- Radiation can impact breast reconstruction. It can also have some risks to appearance and healing when provided after reconstruction, especially processes of tissue flaps.
- Women who went through radiation breast cancer treatment would be able to breastfeed from the radiated breast.
- Breast radiation sometimes damages some arm nerves. The medical term for this process is brachial plexopathy, and it results in pain, numbness, and weakness in the arm, hand, and shoulder.
- Underarm lymph node radiation can result in lymphedema, a pain that causes arm or chest swelling.
- In many cases, radiation therapy weakens the ribs resulting in fractures. Earlier, some parts of the heart and lungs were more likely to have radiation, resulting in long-term damage to such organs in women. Modern equipment for radiation therapy focuses on radiation beams much better than old machines, so such issues are rare nowadays.
- A rare radiation complication to the breast is getting another cancer known as angiosarcoma.
Coping With Side Effects
Let the nurse doctor know when you notice any breast cancer radiation treatment side effects and dont worry too much about anything. You get regular appointments for around five years when the breast cancer treatment ends. You can talk to nurses or doctors during such appointments. However, you wont have to look for another appointment when youve got any side effects or are worried about side effects occurring. At University Cancer Centers, we treat all types of stages of breast cancer with care, and the most researched breast cancer treatment approaches. Our leading-edge hospital care technologies with experienced practitioners ensure that youre under expert care and have a speedy recovery.
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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, Its 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. Theres a reason why youre doing radiation: to treat the cancer and prolong your life. Our goal is that treatment doesnt 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.
I like to ask, What are your plans this week/weekend? What do you look forward to doing after radiation is completed? I want to know what is important in your life and what you can focus on outside of treatment to help push through those difficult days, says Winner.
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 health care provider may be able to suggest a hospital social worker, patient navigator, psychologist or support group to help ease anxiety related to radiation therapy .
Learn more about support groups.
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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.
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.
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Radiation Therapy And Risk Of A Second Cancer
In rare cases, radiation therapy to the breast can cause a second cancer.
The most common cancers linked to radiation therapy are sarcomas . For women who are long-term smokers, radiation therapy may also increase the risk of lung cancer .
The risk of a second cancer is small. If your radiation oncologist recommends radiation therapy, the benefits of radiation therapy outweigh this risk.
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