Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, is used to treat breast cancer by killing cancer cells in an area that has been specifically targeted.




After a lumpectomy breast radiation reduced the risk of local recurrence.  Radiation effectively ‘cleans up’ any remaining cancer cells left in/around the lumpectomy cavity.  Adjacent normal cells are better able to repair the damage caused by radiation than are cancer cells.  Essentially, radiation is therapeutic doses of xray beams designed to kill cancer cells.


Why Is Radiation Therapy Used?

Multiple studies have shown that women who received radiation had a significant reduction of local or distant recurrence when compared to those who did not undergo radiation. They also found a significant reduction in the risk of death by breast cancer in those treated with radiotherapy. Thus, the patients who had radiotherapy when radiotherapy was indicated did better than those who did not receive radiotherapy. This is why radiation is included as part of the therapy for breast cancer. It is intended to kill microscopic disease that cannot be seen or felt, that may be left behind after surgery.

When Is Radiation Therapy Used?

Radiation is primarily used in the following settings:

  • After partial mastectomy (lumpectomy)
  • After mastectomy (whole breast removal), if the cancer invades into the chest wall or through the skin
  • After mastectomy and axillary staging if more than 4 nodes were positive.  If 1 to 3 nodes were positive after mastectomy, radiotherapy may be recommended


How Is Radiation Therapy Administered?

Radiotherapy can be administered in two ways:

  • Whole-breast radiation therapy
  • Partial-breast radiation therapy

There are lifetime limits to the amount of radiation that can be given to a specific area of the body and this limit will determine the dosage of the radiation therapy. The physician who delivers radiation therapy (the radiation oncologist) will work with the breast surgeon and patient to determine the most suitable treatment

Whole-Breast Radiation Therapy

Whole-breast radiation therapy treats all remaining breast tissue after a partial mastectomy (or lumpectomy). This therapy is delivered in daily doses over 4 to 6 weeks, typically Monday through Friday. In each session the patient lies in a machine that delivers the radiation, which is targeted on the breast tissue.


Whole Breast Radiotherapy… What To Expect:

  1. After consultation with the radiation oncologist, a treatment planning session will be scheduled. This is when the target will be determined, imaging will be used to map the area to be targeted for radiation, and dosage and schedule will be decided.
  2. A virtual or clinical simulation of treatment may then be performed to ensure that the area intended for treatment is indeed the area that will be treated.
  3. Treatment will last 15 to 30 minutes of each day for approximately 25-30 days of therapy.
  4. Fatigue and mild breast dermatitis may be experienced, although most patients return back to baseline within a month of finishing therapy.
  5. The treated area could become red, warm, or itchy. There could be mild discomfort in the area, similar to sunburn.
  6. Skin may swell and darken, which may persist for a while.

**It is very important that you take care of your skin during radiation. Use moisturizer liberally – about 3-4x day. Jean’s Cream is the most effective, but you can also use OTC agents such as Aquaphor. **It is very important that you wear a soft, cotton, supportive bra without underwire. MAKEMERRY is a wonderful option – the bra is extremely comfortable and designed by a female radiation oncologist/company owner specifically for women going through breast cancer treatment.