Radiation therapy for breast cancer is a very targeted and effective means of destroying breast cancer cells that may stick around post surgery. Radiation helps in putting an end to multiplication of cancer cells, while minimizing destruction of healthy tissues. With use of radiation therapy, the risks of recurrence of breast cancer are decreased by 70%. Despite the fear, radiation therapy has been very successful and comparatively easier technique to tolerate with side effects restricted to the localized areas.
With help of radiation therapy, the survival rate has increased significantly in breast cancer women. Radiation therapy utilizes high energy waves (like X-rays) to destroy or shrink cancerous cells. In breast cancer women, radiation is used after breast conserving surgery or even after mastectomy to reduce chances of cancer recurrence in breast, lymph nodes or other nearby regions like bones and brain, when cancer had spread beyond the breast.
Two Important Forms Of Radiation Therapy
External Beam Radiation
The most effective way of providing radiation therapy for breast cancer is by external beam radiation. It is more like the usual x-rays but is focused for much longer time than usual x-ray.
It is done to destroy any cancer cells that have remained in the chest wall, breast or under arm post surgery or chemotherapy of breast cancer. In rare cases, it may be performed before the surgery to shrink the breast cancer tumor.
Accelerated Breast Irradiation
This is the latest revised form of external beam technique, where the radiation is given for shorter period, using larger doses of radiation. The course of radiation gets shortened from 5-6 weeks to 3 weeks. There are varied approaches of accelerated breast irradiation that can even reduces the exposure time to 5 days or just one dose may be given, right before the breast conserving surgery, prior to stitching the skin. Many forms of this radiation are still at experimental phase.
Process of giving radiation by placing radioactive seeds in the breast tissue, adjacent to cancerous cell is known as brachytherapy. It can be given along with external beam radiation to have a double effect to the breast tumor in women, who recently had breast conserving surgery.
In some women, it is considered as the sole source of radiation, instead of the whole breast radiation. The results have been remarkable, but still not as good as that observed in external beam radiation that offers the long term benefits.
In Interstitial brachytherapy, many small hollow tubes are inserted inside the breast, surrounding the cancerous region and left for many days. Then radioactive pellets are being inserted into the catheters for a number of times each day and then catheters are removed. This is relatively cumbersome method and no longer used these days.
This radiation technique places a device into the space remaining after breast conserving energy and then a radiation source is being inserted into this device for a short period. Treatments are given two times in a day, for a period of five days. This is also considered as one the form of accelerated partial breast irradiation.
In many women, radiation therapy results in firmer and smaller breasts and with problems of breast reconstruction. Women with breast radiation may experience troubles in breastfeeding later on.
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