Breast Discomfort Or Swelling
You may have some tenderness in your breast on your affected side, especially at your nipple. You may also develop extra fluid in your breast that may cause sharp, stabbing sensations. Your breast or chest may feel heavy or swollen. Your shoulder on your affected side may also feel stiff.
These sensations can start within the first few days of your radiation therapy. They can go on for many months after you finish radiation therapy. Below are suggestions to help you reduce this discomfort.
- If you wear bras, you may want to choose soft, loose bras without an underwire. Sports bras or cotton bras are good choices. You may even find it more comfortable to not wear a bra at all.
- Take pain medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as needed. Some examples of NSAIDs are ibuprofen and naproxen . If you cant take an NSAID, you can take acetaminophen instead.
Is Radiation Therapy Safe
Some patients are concerned about the safety of radiation therapy. Radiation has been used successfully to treat patients for more than 100 years. In that time, many advances have been made to ensure that radiation therapy is safe and effective.
Before you begin receiving radiation therapy, your radiation oncology team will carefully tailor your plan to make sure that you receive safe and accurate treatment. Treatment will be carefully planned to focus on the cancer while avoiding healthy organs in the area. Throughout your treatment, members of your team check and re-check your plan. Special computers are also used to monitor and double-check the treatment machines to make sure that the proper treatment is given. If you undergo external beam radiation therapy, you will not be radioactive after treatment ends because the radiation does not stay in your body. However, if you undergo brachytherapy, tiny radioactive sources will be implanted inside your body, in the tumor or in the tissue surrounding the tumor, either temporarily or permanently. Your radiation oncologist will explain any special precautions that you or your family and friends may need to take.
Having Radiotherapy For Breast Cancer
You will have radiotherapy as an outpatient. It is usually given using equipment that looks like a large x-ray machine. You might hear it called external beam radiotherapy .
You usually have radiotherapy as a series of short, daily treatments. These are called sessions. The treatments are given from Monday to Friday, with a rest at the weekend. The person who operates the machine is called a radiographer. They will give you information and support during your treatment.
You usually have radiotherapy for 3 weeks. Women who had breast-conserving surgery may have an extra dose to the area where the cancer was. Sometimes the booster dose is given at the same time as radiotherapy to the rest of the breast. Or it may be given at the end of the 3 weeks. This means you will need a few more treatments. Your doctor will tell you how many treatments you will need.
If you have radiotherapy to your left breast, you may be asked to take a deep breath and hold it briefly. This is called deep inspiration breath hold . You do this at each of your planning and treatment sessions. It keeps you still and also moves your heart away from the treatment area. DIBH helps protect your heart during your treatment and reduces the risk of late effects.
External radiotherapy does not make you radioactive. It is safe for you to be with other people, including children, after your treatment.
Skin Irritation In The Treated Area
This may range from mild sunburn to peeling or occasionally blistering. This side effect may not develop until treatment completion. It is usually at its most severe for one to two weeks and then settles over the following three to four weeks.
Its important to try and reduce friction between your skin and clothing to reduce the risk of skin breakdown or blistering. You will be advised how to take care of your skin. For instance:
- Avoid hot water, lotions or other possible irritants on the skin in the treatment area. Using gentle soaps doesnt seem to increase skin irritation.
- Wear loose, light clothing over the area being treated.
- Avoid heat from hair dryers, electric hot pads, hot water bottles and sun in the treatment area.
- No adhesive tapes or sticking plasters should be applied to the skin in the treatment area
Some patients choose to use a transparent, breathable film dressing applied to the skin in the treatment area to try to reduce the skin reaction. Your radiation oncologist will be able to advise you on these products. Your radiation oncologist will also discuss with you the use of appropriate topical creams for the skin, depending on your skin reaction.
Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy
If you are going to get radiation therapy, its important to ask your doctor beforehand about the possible side effects so you know what to expect. Possible Side effects of external radiation therapy can include:
- Skin changes in areas getting radiation, such as redness, blistering and peeling
- Nausea and vomiting
- Painful sores in the mouth and throat
- Dry mouth or thick saliva
- Pain with swallowing
These side effects are often worse if chemotherapy is given at the same time as radiation.
Most side effects of radiation are temporary, but some less common side effects can be permanent. For example, in some cases radiation can cause a stricture in the esophagus, which might require more treatment. Radiation to the chest can cause lung damage, which may lead to problems breathing and shortness of breath.
If you notice any side effects, talk to your doctor right away so steps can be taken to lessen them.
Also Check: Can I Get Tested For Breast Cancer Gene
Getting Used To Changes
Research has shown that the sooner you confront the physical changes to your body, the easier you may find it to gain confidence in the way you look. However, some people wont have had the chance or courage to do this early on.
If you have a partner, letting them see the surgical scars and changes to your body sooner may also make being intimate easier in the long term.
The first few times you look at yourself might make you feel unhappy and shocked, and you may want to avoid looking at yourself again. However, the initial intense feelings you may have will lessen over time as you get more used to how you look now.
Also Check: How To Get Rid Of Breast Cancer
Is Breast Radiation Painful
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.
Recommended Reading: What To Eat During Radiation Treatment For Breast Cancer
So Where Do Dead Cancer Cells Go After Radiation
Lets start with apoptosis. Apoptosis is called planned cell death, and human cells are equipped with an apoptosis system. This is, in a sense, the elegant method of dying for a cell. Cells may die if they receive unique signals from the outside or within the individual cell. The cell dies, and the parts of the cell are shattered into minute pieces. Individual cells die as a result of the process known as apoptosis.
Necrosis is the other manner of cell death. This typically occurs when the cells are deprived of a sufficient quantity of oxygen and blood. It can also happen as a result of exposure to chemicals. Among cancer patients, necrosis is rather prevalent because the fast expansion of the cancer cell causes a lack of blood flow.
When cancer is treated with radiotherapy, however, cell death can result through both necrosis and apoptosis. In addition, phagocytic cells such as neutrophils, macrophages, and other phagocytic cells remove the dead cells and debris that develop due to cell death from the body. Thus, dead cells are removed from the site of the malignancy and disposed of properly.
Then the normal cells in the surrounding region may increase, resulting in the healing of the affected area. A distinction cannot be drawn between dead cancer cells and non-cancerous cells. Every moment of your life, your body deals with a million dead cells, which it regularly does. Cancer cells that have died are not a threat.
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.
Recommended Reading: How To Examine Breast Cancer At Home
Q: How Else Can Survivors Prepare For Life After Treatment
A: Survivors can ask their oncologist for an end of treatment summary that outlines the original diagnosis, including the cancer type, stage, and the treatments received. These details will be important to future health care providers throughout their lifetime. This information should also clearly state the proposed schedule for follow-up visits and recommended scans and other testing to monitor the persons recovery, also called a survivorship care plan.
Another very helpful resource is a support group. It allows survivors to share experiences and advice and receive support from individuals who have had similar experiences and who are outside their usual circle of family or friends.
Meanwhile, some may find it useful to look for more information about survivorship after their specific type of cancer or information on coping, using web-based materials such as those available on Cancer.Net. Others may turn to literature, hobbies, or their faith to help them move forward. The important message is that life may be forever changed by the experience of having cancer, and those changes deserve careful attention and respect.
How Do Cancer Cells Cause Damage
Lets talk about normal cells. We already know that normal cells must always be tightly controlled and maintained to sustain the bodys activities and keep our body in good condition. However, in cancer cells, the situation is completely reversed, and it is how the most harm is done.
Cancer cells do not respond to standard signals, and as a result, they continue to divide uncontrollably. Thus, cancer causes an excess production of cells that are not required. For example, this happens in the case of white blood cells in Leukemia.
Cancer cells are also not mature, which means they do not work correctly and do not adhere to apoptosis. So the cancer cells in your body exist as a mass but do nothing, and they have a faster metabolism. They use the oxygen and other nutrients that would otherwise be available to regular cells to maintain the regular cells growth.
Well, what happens in the case of Leukemia? Because of the excessive production of white blood cells in Leukemia, the bone marrow becomes overburdened, and the generation of other blood cells such as red blood cells and platelets is diminished. As a result, the patient suffers from anemia. In addition, the patients platelet level decreases, making them more susceptible to bleed.
You May Like: What Is Stage 2 Triple Negative Breast Cancer
During Your Course Of Treatment
- Skin reddening and irritation: slight reddening of the skin can develop by the third week of treatment. This reddening usually gets worse towards the end of treatment. The skin reaction usually settles down in the two weeks after your therapy finishes. You may apply sorbolene cream to relieve the irritation. Your doctor may be able to prescribe other creams if this reddening gets worse.
- Tiredness: you may feel tired during the course of treatment. This may take a few weeks to settle after the treatment has finished. If you have also had chemotherapy this may last for a number of months.
- Aches and pains in the breast: most women feel twinges in the breast. These are usually minor and do not need any pain medication. This discomfort is normal and may occur on and off for one or more years after you complete your treatment. Sometimes you lose some feeling in your nipple after treatment.
- Loss of hair: you will not lose the hair on your head, but if your armpit region is treated, you will lose underarm hair. The hair is unlikely to re-grow.
- Sore throat: if the lymph nodes at the base of your neck need to be included in the treated area, then your throat may become sore during treatment.
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.
Read Also: Stage 1 Her2 Positive Breast Cancer
Working During Radiation Therapy
Some people are able to work full-time during radiation therapy. Others can work only part-time or not at all. How much you are able to work depends on how you feel. Ask your doctor or nurse what you may expect from the treatment you will have.
You are likely to feel well enough to work when you first start your radiation treatments. As time goes on, do not be surprised if you are more tired, have less energy, or feel weak. Once you have finished treatment, it may take just a few weeks for you to feel betteror it could take months.
You may get to a point during your radiation therapy when you feel too sick to work. Talk with your employer to find out if you can go on medical leave. Check that your health insurance will pay for treatment while you are on medical leave.
Learn About Your Diagnosis And Treatment Options
After your diagnosis, educate yourself so you can be confident about your decisions. Ask a close friend or family member to learn with you, attend your appointments, and be your advocate. A second set of ears and another point of view is invaluable when you are dealing with your new diagnosis.
Find the right cancer center, , and surgeon for you. Look for doctors who are affiliated with a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center, board certified in their specialty, and experienced in treating breast cancer. Then, make a consultation appointment and ask about support groups. Most cancer centers can put you in contact with survivors to learn about their experiences.
Before making a final decision, consider getting a second opinion. Second opinions can validate your original plan and reinforce your confidence in your first doctor. They can give you more insight into your cancer and your treatment options. You can search www.healthgrades.com for an oncologist, as well as search for doctors who treat breast cancer specifically.
Don’t Miss: Does Nipple Pinching Cause Breast Cancer
What To Do If Side Effects Are Impacting A Persons Quality Of Life
If side effects are impacting a persons quality of life, they should speak to a doctor, who may be able to recommend ways to reduce discomfort. Read the article in Spanish. Last medically reviewed on October 5, 2018. Breast Cancer. Cancer / Oncology. Radiology / Nuclear Medicine. Womens Health / Gynecology.
Radiotherapy To The Lymph Nodes
The lymph nodes in your armpit will need treatment if a biopsy shows that one or more lymph nodes contain cancer cells. This may be surgery to remove the rest of the lymph nodes or radiotherapy to the armpit.
You may also have radiotherapy to the lymph nodes above the collar bone or around the breast bone.
Also Check: How To Determine Breast Cancer
Talk To Your Radiation Oncologist About Respiratory Gating
If you have left sided breast cancer, some radiation will likely make its way to your heart, and heart disease related to radiation for breast cancer is a significant concern. Radiation has been linked with a number of different forms of heart disease ranging from valve disease, to rhythm disturbances, to coronary artery disease.
Fortunately, the technique of respiratory gating or breath hold can reduce the amount of radiation that hits your heart significantly. With this technique, your technician will have you hold your breath for short periods of time during each session. It is important to ask about this before beginning your treatments, as special measurements will need to be taken to be sure that inhaling air into your lungs will move your heart away from the field of radiation.
Even though research has found benefit in these techniques, not everyone is informed of this option. Make sure to be your own advocate, so that you either receive this heart-sparing technique, or at least clearly understand why it may not be needed.
Recommended Reading: Is Weight Gain A Symptom Of Breast Cancer