What To Expect During Radiation Treatments
Treatments are usually given five days a week for six to seven weeks. If the goal of treatment is palliative treatment will last 2-3 weeks in length. Using many small doses for daily radiation, rather than a few large doses, helps to protect the healthy cells in the treatment area. The break from treatment on weekends allows the normal cells to recover.
It is very important to finish all sessions of radiation therapy. It is important not to miss or delay treatments because it can lessen how well the radiation kills tumor cells.
The radiation therapy technologist may ask you to change into a gown before treatment. It is a good idea to wear clothing that is easy to pull down, adjust, or remove when coming for treatments.
During the actual treatment sessions you will be in the treatment room between 10-30 minutes. You will be receiving radiation for 1-2 minutes of that time.
You will be asked to lie on a hard, moveable bed. The RTT will use the marks on your skin to exactly position the machine and table. In some instances, special blocks or shields are used to protect normal organs. You may be positioned using special holders, molds or boards.
It is extremely important to remain still during the radiation treatments. Breathe normally during treatments. You do not need to hold your breath. You will not feel anything during the treatment. Radiation is painless. You will not see, hear, or smell radiation.
Pain In The Breast Or Chest Area
You may have aches, twinges or sharp pains in the breast or chest area.
Although these are usually mild, they can continue for months or even years, but they usually become milder and less frequent over time.
You may also have stiffness and discomfort around the shoulder and breast or chest area during and after treatment.
Continuing to do arm and shoulder exercises during radiotherapy and for several months afterwards may help minimise or prevent stiffness or discomfort.
Breast Cancer Treatment Miami
The CyberKnife Center of Miami. offers radiation for stage one and stage two breast cancers as well as metastatic breast cancers in some cases.
In early-stage breast cancer CyberKnife is a faster, safer way to treat breast cancer
- It offers outstanding tumor control, better cosmetic results, and less radiation exposure to the surrounding vital organs like the heart and the lungs
- There is no cutting, no surgery, and no risk of infection
- Plus, there are only one to five treatments with CyberKnife as opposed to 35 when you go to a regular cancer center
- With CyberKnife, skin side effects tend to look like mild sunburns which go away rather quickly
- Fewer treatments can mean fewer side effects to the skin
Breast cancer is an area where women really need to do serious research and find out what their treatment options are because CyberKnife is an amazing option and a lot of women still are not aware of it and if the medical facility they are going to doesnt have CyberKnife, chances are they wont tell you about it, says Dr. Mark Pomper, board-certified radiation oncologist and medical director at CyberKnife Miami.
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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.
Will Side Effects Limit My Activities
Not necessarily, says Yale Medicine radiation oncologist Lynn Wilson, MD, who is the chair of Therapeutic Radiology and a professor of therapeutic radiology at Yale School of Medicine. It will depend on what side effects you experienceand how severe they are. Many patients are able to go to work, keep house, and enjoy leisure activities while they are receiving radiation therapy. Others find that they need more rest than usual and therefore cannot do as much. You should try to do the things you enjoy, as long as you dont become too tired. Your doctor may suggest that you limit activities that might irritate the area being treated. In most cases, you can have sexual relations if you wish. However, your desire for physical intimacy may be lower because radiation therapy may cause you to feel more tired than usual.
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Types Of Radiation Therapy
- External beam radiation is most commonly used to treat breast cancer. A machine outside your body aims a beam of radiation on the area affected by the disease.
- Brachytherapy delivers radiation to the cancer through something implanted in your body.
- Proton therapy sends highly targeted radiation just to your breast tissue and not into your heart or lungs.
What To Expect With External Beam Radiation
If you have external beam radiation, youll meet with your radiation oncologist and a nurse before starting treatment. They will walk you through what to expect with external beam radiation, and the risks and benefits of this treatment.
At this time, youll likely have a physical exam and go over your medical history.
Additionally, the radiation oncologist and a radiation therapist will take scans of your treatment area. This will help define the boundaries of the affected area so they know where to aim the radiation beams.
They will put marks on your skin to mark the area. You will need the marks throughout the course of your treatment. The marks will be used to line up your body, so the radiation beams target the exact area that needs to be treated.
Sometimes a body mold will be made to immobilize you during the treatment and to help keep your body still.
Each treatment will only last a few minutes. The session setup will take longer than the actual treatment. You wont feel anything when the machine is turned on for the treatment. Its a painless procedure.
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How Long Is A Radiation Therapy Treatment
Each treatment session will depend on your case specifics and the radiation treatment type. With that said, the average treatment session lasts for about 10 to 30 minutes. Our team will routinely take scans of your tumor to see how it is responding to treatment. Your treatment protocol will be adjusted accordingly.
Going Through Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy can harm normal tissue, so its carefully planned and precisely delivered. This helps ensure the radiation kills as many cancer cells as possible while doing as little injury as possible to other parts of your body.
Radiation therapy is planned specifically for your breast cancer, the shape of your body and your internal anatomy. This is why sessions cant be split between different treatment centers.
Your treatment plan is based on:
- The tumor size, type and location
- The number of lymph nodes with cancer
- The type of breast surgery you had
- The shape of your breast or chest wall, and the shape and location of nearby organs
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What To Expect From Your Breast Cancer Radiation Therapy
Many patients with breast cancer will receive radiation therapy at some point in their treatment course. It is often used to decrease the risk of your breast cancer recurring after surgery.
Many patients with breast cancer who are receiving radiation therapy may have had prior therapies for their cancer e.g. a lumpectomy or mastectomy, chemotherapy, or endocrine therapy.
Why Is Radiation Given
Radiation therapy is used to treat cancer and a few non-cancerous diseases. Radiation treatments can be used to:
- Treat cancer by killing, stopping, or slowing the growth of cancer cells
- Shrink tumors to reduce pain, pressure, or other side effects if a cure is not possible. The term palliative is often used to describe this process.
Radiation therapy is often used with other treatments
Radiation may be used before, during, or after surgery. It is used to shrink the tumor to a smaller size before surgery or to kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery. Sometimes doctors give radiation during surgery so the radiation can be directed right at the cancer cells without having to go through the skin.
Radiation can also be used with chemotherapy. Sometimes radiation is given to shrink the tumor before or during chemotherapy so the medicines will work better. Other times the chemotherapy helps the radiation treatment work better than chemotherapy alone.
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Keeping Health Insurance And Copies Of Your Medical Records
Even after treatment, its very important to keep health insurance. Tests and doctor visits cost a lot, and even though no one wants to think of their cancer coming back, this could happen.
At some point after your treatment, you might find yourself seeing a new doctor who doesnt know about your medical history. Its important to keep copies of your medical records to give your new doctor the details of your diagnosis and treatment. Learn more in Keeping Copies of Important Medical Records.
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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 breast, women should try to go without wearing a bra whenever they can. 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
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Radiation Boost After Lumpectomy
Research has shown that women who undergo a radiation boost have fewer local breast cancer recurrences than women who do not undergo a boost, with a reduction in recurrence most likely among women 50 or younger who are diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ .
That said, even though a radiation boost significantly reduces the risk of breast cancer recurrence, it does not appear to have any effect on overall survival up to 20 years out after treatment.
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.
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Radiation For Metastatic Breast Cancer
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.
If Youre Getting Radiation Therapy To The Chest
Radiation treatment to the chest may cause side effects such as:
- Sore throat
Radiation can also cause other problems in the heart or lungs.
Getting radiation to the middle portion of the chest can raise your risk of heart disease. This risk increases with higher radiation doses and larger treatment areas in this part of your body. Radiation can also cause hardening of the arteries , heart valve damage, or irregular heartbeats.
Radiation pneumonitis is inflammation of the lungs that can be caused by radiation treatment to the chest . It may occur about 3 to 6 months after getting radiation therapy. Its more likely if you have other lung diseases, like emphysema . Common symptoms of radiation pneumonitis include:
- Shortness of breath that usually gets worse with exercise
- Chest pain, which is often worse when taking in a deep breath
Sometimes there are no symptoms, and radiation pneumonitis is found on a chest x-ray.
Symptoms often go away on their own, but if treatment is needed, it is based on trying to decrease the inflammation. Steroids, like prednisone, are usually used. With treatment, most people recover without any lasting effects. But if it persists, it can lead to pulmonary fibrosis . When this happens, the lungs can no longer fully inflate and take in air.
Be sure you understand what to look for, and tell your cancer care team if you notice any of these side effects.
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What Lifestyle Changes Should I Expect To Make During Radiation Therapy
During radiation therapy, your biggest focus should be on proper nutrition. You must consume more calories than normal so that your body has enough fuel to repair any tissue damage. Unfortunately, you may lack appetite, especially if your cancer is affecting the GI tract. Try to think of food as part of your treatment. You need to eat the proper nourishment to optimize healing and recovery between sessions.
Radiotherapy To The Lymph Nodes
Radiotherapy can be given to the lymph nodes under the arm to destroy any cancer cells that may be present there.
It may also be given to the lymph nodes in the lower part of the neck around the collarbone, or in the area near the breastbone .
If radiotherapy to the lymph nodes is recommended, your specialist will explain why.
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What Are The Physical Side Effects
Receiving the radiation will not be painful. Side effects vary from person to person and depend on the site being treated. The most common side effects in the treatment of breast cancer are:
- Skin changes
- Uncomfortable sensations in the treated breast
Please talk to your doctor or nurse if you have concerns about side effects before you begin treatment or if you have questions about managing your side effects during treatment.
What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor
Coping with a diagnosis of cancer and researching the various treatment options can be a stressful experience. To assist you in this process, below is a list of questions you may want to ask your radiation oncologist if you are considering radiation therapy.
Questions to ask before treatment
- What type and stage of cancer do I have?
- What is the purpose of radiation treatment for my type of cancer?
- How will the radiation therapy be given? Will it be external beam or brachytherapy? What do the treatments feel like?
- For how many weeks will I receive radiation? How many treatments will I receive per week?
- What are the chances that radiation therapy will work?
- Can I participate in a clinical trial? If so, what is the trial testing? What are my benefits and risks?
- What is the chance that the cancer will spread or come back if I do not have radiation therapy?
- Will I need chemotherapy, surgery or other treatments? If so, in what order will I receive these treatments? How soon after radiation therapy can I start them?
- How should I prepare for this financially?
- What are some of the support groups I can turn to during treatment?
- If I have questions after I leave here, who can I call?
- Will radiation therapy affect my ability to have children?
- Do you take my insurance?
Questions to ask during Treatment
Questions to ask After Treatment Ends
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