Radiation therapy for breast cancer is just one of the treatment protocols that are used to treat this common but potentially deadly disease. Surgical excision of tumors, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and other treatments can be included in the treatment for breast cancer, and a combination of some or all may be used depending upon the type, location and progress of the cancer.
What does radiation therapy for breast cancer do?
This therapy uses ionizing radiation to target and kill malignant and invasive cancer cells and to prevent them from multiplying and spreading. The DNA of exposed tissue is damaged by the radiation which is what kills the cancer cells, which have faulty DNA anyway and which are seen to be more vulnerable to radiation.
Radiation therapy can be used for most cancers in one or other capacity: curative, palliate, adjuvant, neoadjuvant or therapeutic.
How effective radiation therapy for breast cancer will be depends upon the “radiosensitivity” of a tumor.
Cancers such as lymphomas and germ cell tumors are known to be highly radiosensitive, which is why they respond to this treatment. Breast cancer, particularly during the earlier stages is thought to be radio-responsive.
When radiation is used to treat breast cancer, it is the breast, the lymph nodes or other parts of the body that may be subjected to the radiation. Clinicians are exploring the possibility of using a treatment known as Hyperthermia in conjunction with the radiation therapy, where the cancer cells are heated up to 113 degrees F.
This heating process is thought to make the radiation more effective because it could make the cancer cells more vulnerable to the radiation.
Importance of radiation therapy for breast cancer
Most typically a breast tumor will be surgically removed, after which radiation will be performed. This is to make sure that any lingering malignant cells are also destroyed to reduce the chances of the cancer coming back, because it is not possible to ensure that the surgery removed all the cancer cells.
Research has shown that if radiation doesn’t follow lumpectomy (surgery to remove a cancerous lump), there is a 60% higher chance of the cancer returning.
Radiation therapy is an evolving science and it is more accurate and effective now than ever before with more techniques now available to exactly target a cancerous growth and space the surrounding healthy tissue.
What you should know about radiation therapy for breast cancer
There are no particular side effects from radiation therapy which is itself painless, though there maybe some discomfort later. It’s chemotherapy that causes side effects like nausea, vomiting, hair loss, etc., and not radiotherapy.
Side effects such as some skin discoloration and tiredness may be seen but these also resolve in time. Some sensitivity and irritation may occur and special skin care may be required. When undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer, women are able to follow their daily routines without any difficulty. The treatment is typically given for 30 minutes each day; 5 times a week for up to 7 weeks or less.