There are various modalities to treat breast cancer including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy. Radiation therapy being a very important aspect to treat the disease. It uses high-energy X-rays, protons or other particles to specifically kills cells in a specific area known as the field of radiation by damaging the DNA of these cells. These cells then stop dividing which leads to shrinking of the tumor.
The cancer cells which are rapidly dividing are more susceptible to radiation than the normal cells. But this therapy may take days or weeks before which the cancer cells start dying. It is usually given after surgery to decrease the chances of recurrence. When both chemotherapy and radiotherapy are required then the radiation treatment is usually completed after chemotherapy. Depending upon the surgery performed , type and size of tumor, involvement of lymph nodes , spread to any other organ, age and overall health your radiation oncologist (doctor who specializes in treating cancer with radiation) plans the treatment. Radiation therapy for breast cancer can be delivered in the following two ways-
External beam radiation has been given traditionally in this way with a large machine to destroy the cancer cells. This machine focuses the radiation on the cancer affected area . This treatment usually spans over a 5 to 7 week period.
Hypo fractionated radiation therapy: To reduce the time span of the radiation treatment new modalities have been developed. In this technique the radiation is given in larger doses for around 3 weeks.
3D-conformal radiotherapy: In this special machines are used which aim only at the area where the tumor was removed thus paring the healthy tissues.
Brachytherapy – After the tumor has been removed by surgery, a radiation-delivery device is placed temporarily in your breast near the tumor site. Then a radioactive source is placed into the device for short periods of time over the course of treatment. Brachytherapy is of two types- interstitial and intracavitory.
Thus , one should discuss all the types of radiation treatment options with your radiation oncologist during radiation therapy planning sessions to get the best treatment option available for you.