A High Level Analysis of Conventional Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer
For most women undergoing therapeutic radiation, breast cancer is the reason why. It is the most common cancer among women in the United States, and radiation therapy is one of the most widely used tr...
For most women undergoing therapeutic radiation, breast cancer is the reason why. It is the most common cancer among women in the United States, and radiation therapy is one of the most widely used treatments. To learn more about radiation and how and why it's used, read on.
How Radiation Therapy Works
Radiation therapy works by using high-energy, high-dose rays that either kill cancer cells completely or stop them from dividing and spreading. Because cancer cells grow and divide quickly, they're more susceptible to radiation treatments than healthy cells.
At What Stages Radiation is Considered
Radiation can be used to treat almost any stage of breast cancer. It's most often used as the primary treatment in stage one and stage two breast cancer, but in conjunction with surgery or after a mastectomy.
Radiation: After Lumpectomy Surgery for Breast Cancer Treatment
After a lumpectomy, radiation therapy is typically recommended to prevent a relapse or recurrence of the cancer. This kind of recurrence is called in-breast recurrence.
If radiation therapy is not done, the risk of in-breast recurrence over the course of the decade following the lumpectomy is between 20 and 35 percent. However, when radiation therapy is used after the surgery, that rate decreases to a phenomenal 5 to 10 percent.
Despite the survival benefits for radiation therapy after a lumpectomy, it's not for everyone. If you've had radiation before, suffer from a connective tissue disease like lupus or are pregnant, you should not undergo radiation therapy.
Radiation After a Mastectomy
After a full mastectomy, some doctors may still recommend radiation therapy to prevent the cancer from recurring on the chest wall. You are considered at risk for recurrence if your underarm lymph nodes test positive for cancer, you had a tumor that was larger than 5 centimeters in diameter or the cancer was dangerously close to the chest wall when it was removed.
The value of radiation to destroy a minimal amount of positive lymph nodes is somewhat controversial. Some practitioners argue that it prevents recurrence but may lead to other problems such as heart issues, as radiation can affect the coronary arteries.
Side Effects of Radiation
Radiation is a cumulative process, meaning side effects tend to become more pronounced as the treatment progresses and continues.
The most common side effect of radiation is fatigue. Patients should plan for this and opt to either take time off work or cut down on their stress and overall workload both at the office and at home. Some changes like a difference in skin color, different skin texture or increased skin irritation can also occur.
Other symptoms are itching, general skin irritation, redness, peeling, soreness, swelling and other common symptoms associated with localized radiation. Breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy often compare it to a severe, but very small sunburn. The good news is that when the treatment comes to a conclusion, the symptoms gradually diminish.
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