Recent Advances in Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

Significant advances have been made in the field of breast cancer radiation. Today, patients have more options than ever to select from, allowing them to choose the best option for their individual situation and to minimize the inconvenience and possible side effects of radiation. Your breast radiation oncologist will discuss all of the options available to you and help you to select the option that best suits your individual needs.

Standard whole breast radiation is generally initiated four to six weeks following surgery (or after chemotherapy is necessary). Treatment is delivered daily, five days per week, for approximately six weeks in most cases. Treatments last approximately 15-20 minutes and patients are generally able to continue their normal daily activities throughout treatment.

Radiation is a localized treatment, and as such, the side effects are limited to the area being treated. The most common side effects that patients experience during breast radition are fatigue and a sunburn-like effect on the skin. Your radiation oncologist will see you throughout treatment and will help you to manage these side effects. Radiation to the breast does not cause hair loss, nausea or vomiting.

Recent Advances in Breast Radiation

Forward Planned IMRT for Breast Cancer

This form of radiation allows the use of a multileaf collimator (MLC) to shape the radiation beam, thus smoothing out the dose of radiation and minimizing the dose to healthy tissues. The use of this technique has been demonstrated to reduce the side effects of radiation.

Hypofractionated Radiation

This form of breast radiation offers the convenience of treatment over three weeks rather than six weeks with similar success rates and no increase in side effects. It is an option for some patients with breast cancer, especially those with small to moderate breast sizes who do not require chemotherapy.

Partial Breast Irradiation

Partial breast radiation is a form of radiation that treats only the area around the lumpectomy site. Treatment is delivered twice per day over one week. Early studies of this form of radiation have shown low rates of recurrence of cancer in the breast for selected categories of patients.

During the lumpectomy procedure or shortly thereafter, a device is placed inside the cavity of the removed tumor. A tube connected to the device remains outside the breast. Once in place, the area is dressed, and the patient goes home. The patient returns to the hospital or clinic for treatment on an outpatient basis where a radioactive “seed” is inserted within the device, beginning a five-day sequence of treatments. No source of radiation remains in the patient’s body between treatments or after the final procedure. When the therapy is finished, the device is removed.

Related Resources

Go to Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

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