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Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer  


Breast cancer Radiation therapy (radiotherapy) is the fact that cancerous cells in the breast are precisely targeted and killed using therapeutic high intensity energy beams. In fact, radiotherapy is often used in the treatment of breast malignant tumor either before or after surgical therapy. 


Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women in terms of incidence and death rates. Yet, the number of women diagnosed with the disease is increasing day by day. Normally, before or after the radiation, surgery is often performed to get rid of malignant tissue that was not removed during the surgical intervention. During the surgery, the surgeon gets rid of the cancerous lump from the breast (lumpectomy) or the whole breast (mastectomy).  The radiotherapy is, most of the times, followed by chemotherapy in order to kill cancer cells in the entire body. After the chemotherapy, radiation therapy is performed to help kill the remaining cancerous cells in the tumor site.  


In many types of cancer, radiation therapy can be used externally or internally.   


External Radiation: during this type of radiotherapy, high energy radioactive beams from a machine called linear accelerator are focused with precision on diseased breast tissue and the lymph nodes. Before proceeding to the therapy, the radiation oncologist needs to first observe the mammography charts and other imaging documents to accurately mark the area to be treated. Accuracy in the marking is very important to allow the therapeutic rays to be delivered directly in the diseased tissue in order to protect healthy tissue. In addition, the right dose of the high energy beams must be delivered. Precaution is taken so that other surrounding parts of the body are not affected with the beams. 


Breast cancer radiation usually takes place in a hospital or medical center, 5 days a week for 5-7 weeks, depending upon the situation. This is a very quick therapy session; each session of radiotherapy lasts about 1-2 minutes.  


Internal Radiation: Internal radiation or brachytherapy in the treatment of breast cancer is called partial-breast radiation. In this form of therapy, the radiation source is placed inside the patient, very closed to the tumor. Small pieces of radioactive material called 'seeds' are placed in the area after removal of the cancerous tissue. The therapeutic seeds work by emitting radiation into the surrounding tissue to damage the DNA of the cancer cells, thus preventing them from reproducing. Breast cancer radiation therapy can be effective, although it causes side effects. 


Radiation Therapy Side Effects 


Although radiotherapy is less toxic than chemotherapy, it also causes side effects. The site where the radiation is targeted tends to burn, looks like a sunburn, with redness, itching, burning, possible peeling and soreness. This effect usually goes away on its own gradually once the treatment is over. 


Breast cancer patients tend to experience increased fatigue and weakness, which are often associated or followed by mild chest pain, which can be due to the swelling and irritation of nearby nerves. In addition, Loss of appetite, Discomfort and inflammation of arm pit associated with symptoms like nausea, dizziness, and vomiting are also observed during or after breast cancer radiation.