Standard radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses targeted, high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Some emerging radiation therapy techniques use other forms of radiation to kill cancer cells.
The goal of radiation therapy is to kill any cancer that might be left in or around the breast or nearby lymph nodes after surgery.
Radiation therapy is an option for many women who have:
Radiation is standard therapy for most women who have:
Radiation therapy is often given to women who are treated with lumpectomy (also called breast conserving surgery) for DCIS.
In rare cases, radiation therapy is given to women treated with mastectomy for DCIS.
Learn more about treatment for DCIS.
For a summary of research studies on lumpectomy plus radiation therapy in the treatment of DCIS, visit the Breast Cancer Research Studies section.
Radiation therapy is usually recommended after lumpectomy.
Radiation therapy can lower the risk of :
Many women who have a mastectomy don't benefit from radiation therapy.
However, in some cases, radiation therapy is used after mastectomy to treat the chest wall and lymph nodes. These can include the lymph nodes in the underarm area (axillary nodes), around the collarbone or near the breastbone (internal mammary nodes).
Radiation therapy is carefully planned and precisely given.
Your treatment is tailored to your breast cancer and your body.
Learn about planning and treatment sessions for radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy has some short-term side effects (such as skin tenderness) and for some women, long-term side effects (such as lymphedema).
Learn more about possible side effects of radiation therapy.
Not everyone can have radiation therapy. Being pregnant or having certain health conditions can make radiation therapy harmful.
Women who have breast implants (saline or silicone) can usually have radiation therapy. However, implants can make radiation therapy planning more complex.
Radiation therapy can cause scarring and hardening of the implant, leading to a less natural look.
In rare cases, the implant may need to be removed before radiation therapy begins. Or, it may need to be removed after radiation therapy ends if the cosmetic look is poor due to scarring or skin changes that alter the shape of the breast.
If your treatment plan includes mastectomy, radiation therapy and breast reconstruction, discuss possible risks with your plastic surgeon and radiation oncologist.
Learn more about breast reconstruction.
New radiation therapy techniques to shorten the length of treatment are under study in clinical trials.
Learn more about emerging areas in radiation therapy.
Learn more about talking with your health care provider.
It may be helpful to download and print Susan G. Komen®'s Questions to Ask Your Doctor card on radiation therapy and take it with you to your next doctor appointment. There’s plenty of space to write down the answers to these questions, which you can refer to later.
You can also download other Questions to Ask Your Doctor cards on many different breast cancer topics. These cards are a nice tool for people recently diagnosed with breast cancer, who may be too overwhelmed to know where to begin to gather information.
Although the exact treatment for breast cancer varies from person to person, guidelines help ensure high-quality care. These guidelines are based on the latest research and agreement among experts.
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) are respected organizations that regularly review and update their guidelines.
In addition, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has treatment overviews.
Talk with your health care providers about which treatment guidelines they use. Since there’s often a lag time between the latest research and guideline updates, most providers prefer to base their treatment on the latest research.
Breast cancer treatment is most effective when all parts of the treatment plan are followed as prescribed.
It’s important to follow the treatment plan prescribed by your health care provider in terms of:
Radiation therapy after lumpectomy lowers the risk of breast cancer recurrence and may increase the chances of survival . It’s usually recommended after lumpectomy.
Radiation therapy for early breast cancer usually involves treatment 5 days a week for 3-6½ weeks.
Getting to and from the treatment center every day for weeks can be hard, especially if you live far away or, if children or other family members rely on you for care.
If you need a ride to and from treatment or help with child care or elder care, there may be resources to help. Family and friends often want to help, but don’t know how. These are great ways for them to help.
Sometimes, there are programs that help with local or long-distance transportation and lodging (if you need a place to stay overnight during treatment).
There are also programs that help with child care and elder care costs.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help. It’s important to complete your radiation therapy without gaps or delays.
Learn more about the importance of following your breast cancer treatment plan.
If you're facing radiation therapy, remember, many people have been where you are today. They had the same fears. They've gone through breast cancer treatment, recovered and are living their lives.
Sharing experiences and advice with others going through radiation therapy or those who have finished treatment may be helpful.
We have a list of resources for finding local and online support groups. Your health care provider may also be able to help you find a local support group.
Learn more about social support and support groups.
SUSAN G. KOMEN® SUPPORT RESOURCES
Interactive Treatment Navigation Tool
Breast Cancer 101 - Radiation Therapy
Radiation Therapy Video
Facts for Life: Radiation Therapy for Early Breast Cancer
Questions to Ask Your Doctor: Radiation Therapy
1-877 GO KOMEN(1-877-465-6636)
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