If you are contemplating radiation therapy for breast cancer you know that the radiotherapy is an attempt to try and kill off cancer cells that could still linger even after surgical removal of a tumor. You are also likely to have some apprehensions about the treatment and about how well you will tolerate it.
Apprehensions about radioactivity, pain and other side effects of radiation therapy for breast cancer can cause anxiety and worry, so we look at some salient points relating to this treatment and what you can realistically expect-
1. Radiation consists of a high energy beam directed at cancer cells to damage them in a way that they cannot divide and multiply.
Radiation is more able and more likely to kill off cancer cells and will cause relatively less harm to the surrounding healthy tissue.
2. Not only will the radiation help in killing off the surviving cancer cells, it is also helpful in preventing the cancer from returning.
3. There are several methods for giving radiation therapy for breast cancer – externally and internally. A machine known as the linear accelerator gives external radiation whereas pellets may give off radiation from within the body.
In some cases the radiotherapy for breast cancer may be given intra-operative – the radiation is given at the time of the surgical removal of the tumor.
4. The radiation itself is a painless process (in the same way that you feel nothing when you have an X-ray taken). However there could be some amount of discomfort over the longer term.
5. The duration of the treatment is usually about 5 days a week for up to 7 weeks. Sometimes the total duration may be shorter but may require more than one session a day.
Each radiotherapy session is about 30 minutes in length so it is an outpatient procedure that will allow the cancer patient to carry on with most of their normal activities.
6. The radiation therapy for breast cancer may not be restricted only to the breast area. Other areas where the cancer may have spread will also be subject to radiotherapy.
7. Radiation is different from chemotherapy, and it is chemotherapy and not radiation that typically causes cancer patients to lose their hair. However if the cancer has metastasized in a way that needs radiation to be given to the head then this could mean hair loss.
8. However there is the feeling of tiredness as a result of the radiation and this can last beyond the duration of the radiotherapy treatment.
9. Radiation therapy for breast cancer will usually cause the skin to redden or turn pink or brown. There could be skin irritation and sensitivity and soothing lotions will help to relieve the symptoms. If required the doctor will prescribe specific formulations.
Remember that there could be side effects and discomforts as a result of radiation therapy for breast cancer, but these are temporary and they resolve within a few months at best. The possible benefits tend to outweigh concerns about side effects.