Risks and Benefits of Radiation
Is radiation the next step?
Radiation therapy is a common follow-up treatment for people with breast cancer. It uses high-energy radiation to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. The choices include:
Standard external beam radiation therapy
The basics: This type of radiation is delivered in the form of high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays, to your entire breast from a machine outside your body.
It might be right for you if: You’ve had surgery, your cancer was larger than 5 cm or cancer was also found in the lymph nodes and you want to reduce your chances of cancer recurrence. Or it could be to target a site or sites if your cancer has metastasized.
What you should know: Treatments are commonly done five days a week for five to six weeks, although a three-week treatment period using larger doses of radiation is also possible. The area to be treated is “mapped,” then radiation beams are directed at it.
Internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy)
The basics: A doctor places one or more thin tubes inside the cancerous breast, then loads a radioactive substance into the tubes. After a few minutes, the radioactive substance is removed. After a lumpectomy, your doctor may place the radioactive substance in the space created by the surgery (it may be left in place for a few days or permanently).
It might be right for you if: You’re over age 50 and you’ve had a small tumor removed by lumpectomy, with no positive lymph nodes. It may be used alone or in addition to external radiation to the whole breast.
What you should know: Some women treated with lumpectomy/brachytherapy may later require a mastectomy if it’s discovered that the original tumor has already spread to other parts of the breast.