Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

Radiation therapy or radiotherapy is a very effective and targeted way of fighting cancer cells in breasts. These cells may have lingered on even after correctional surgery. With radiation therapy, you can reduce cancer recurrence chances by up to 70%. Many people are scared by the idea of having to go through radiotherapy. However once you have a clear understanding of the basics and how to deal with radiation therapy, you’ll find the process easier to go through.

What Are the Key Points You Should Know about Radiation Therapy?

  • Radiation is a type of targeted therapy that is meant to get rid of cancer cells that were left after surgery. This process is administered from the point the cancer started all the way to other affected body parts.
  • Radiation is a painless process. However, the process often causes discomfort.
  • External radiation will not make the patient radioactive.
  • The treatment is given for five days each week, and it can last up to 7 weeks. In some cases, radiotherapy can be given twice each day for one week.
  • Unless radiation targets the head, patients do not lose their hair.
  • The skin on the area receiving radiation can turn pink, tan or red. It may also become irritated and sensitive. There are medications and creams that can help minimize the symptoms.
  • In the course of treatment, it is possible to feel fatigued. This is a side effect that can last up to several months after the end of treatment.
  • The side effects associated with radiation are temporary.
  • With radiotherapy, the chances of cancer recurrence after surgery are greatly decreased.

Which Types of Breast Cancer Need Radiation Therapy?

  • Most of the time, doctors recommend radiation to patient after they have undergone lumpectomy (tumor removal) or after undergoing mastectomy which reduces the chances of cancer recurrence in the breast.
  • It is also possible for radiation to be used in the treatment of advanced cancer symptoms.

Radiation mostly commences a few weeks after the surgical process. This gives the body a few weeks to heal.

What Happens During Radiation Therapy?

Once you arrive at the hospital, your therapist will escort you to the treatment room where you’ll be required to lie on a table. Once you are comfortably positioned, the therapy is initiated. Your therapist will check on you throughout the whole process. There are cameras that enable the therapist to assess the treatment room. If you experience any issues, you need to alert your therapist immediately. Always remain still and calm during the radiation process. Your therapist will be coming into the room often to help you in repositioning your body and the machine.

The process is painless, and the machine is not in direct contact with your body.

Why You Have Marks on Your Skin from Radiotherapy

During treatment, you will have small marks that resemble tattoos or freckles on the treatment line. These give a permanent treatment outline area. Avoid marking these areas or retouching them when they disappear.

What to Eat During Radiation Therapy

During the radiation process, good nutrition is of utmost importance. This will make it easy for you to recover from the therapy. Eating balanced meals supplies your system with energy to undertake normal day to day activities. This makes healing and fighting infections easier.

If you are having difficulties eating, you can seek the services of a dietitian. They will help you get the nutrients your body needs.

What Are the Side Effects of Radiation Therapy?

Radiation is administered through the skin. Some of the side effects include swelling, sensitivity and color changes. The affected skin part can peel and become tender and moist. Depending on the radiation dose, it is possible to go through hair loss and increased sweating. Skin reactions to the treatment are temporary and very common. They are going to disappear in a few weeks after completing the radiation treatment. In case you experience skin changes in other areas of your body, you need to let your doctor know immediately.

Some side effects are long term and can go on for a year. These long term effects include skin darkening, breast pores enlargement, skin sensitivity, breast size changes as well as breast tissue thickening.

How to Reduce Skin Reactions after Radiation Therapy

You can reduce the side effects on your skin by:

  • Cleanse the area of treatment with lukewarm water and mild soap such as Dove, Ivory, Basis or Neutrogena. Avoid rubbing or scratching the skin. Pat it with a dry towel or you can use a hair drier to dry the treatment area.
  • Avoid using ointment, perfumes, shaving lotions and deodorants on the skin area undergoing the treatment.
  • During shaving, only use electric razors.
  • Avoid wearing tight attires or harsh fabric on the area being treated. The best clothes to wear are those made from cotton and soothing fabrics.
  • Do not cover the affected skin area with bandages or media tape.
  • Keep away from extreme cold or heat after radiation. Avoid using ice packs, hot water pads or heating pads.
  • Keep away from direct sunlight. This is important during and after treatment. The sun can make the skin reaction worse and can lead to severe sunburns. You need to use SPF 30 or higher sunscreen lotions and wear protective clothing.
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