Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer
Radiation therapy is a form of cancer treatment that uses high levels of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing and dividing -- while minimizing damage to healthy cells.
When Is Radiation Therapy Given for Breast Cancer?
Radiation therapy is usually given to treat breast cancer after a lumpectomy and sometimes after a mastectomy to reduce your risk of the cancer returning in that breast. The radiation treatments generally start several weeks after the surgery so the area has some time to heal. If your doctor recommends chemotherapy along with radiation therapy, this might be given before you start radiation therapy.
Once radiation treatments start, you can expect to receive small daily doses of radiation over a period of several days to several weeks.
What Happens On Radiation Treatment Days?
The radiation therapist will escort you into the treatment room. The therapist will help you onto the treatment table and help place you in the correct position. Once the therapist is sure you are positioned correctly, he or she will leave the room and start the radiation treatment.
You will be under constant observation during the treatment. Cameras and an intercom are in the treatment room, so the therapist can always see and hear you. If you should have a problem, you can let the therapist know. It is very important that you remain still and relaxed during treatment.
The therapist will be in and out of the room to reposition the machine and change your position. The treatment machine will not touch you and you will feel nothing during the treatment. Once the radiation treatment is complete, the therapist will help you get off the table.
How Will the Radiation Therapist Know I Am In the Correct Position?
The radiation therapist will take a "port film," also known as an X-ray, on the first day of treatment and approximately every week thereafter. Port films verify that you are being accurately positioned during your treatments.
Port films do not provide diagnostic information, so radiation therapists cannot learn about your progress from these films. However, port films are important to help the therapists maintain precision in your treatment.
Why Are There Marks On My Skin for Radiation Treatment?
For radiation treatment, small marks resembling freckles will be tattooed on your skin along the treatment area by the radiation therapist. These marks provide a permanent outline of your treatment area. Do not try to wash these marks off or retouch them if they fade. The therapist will remark the treatment area when necessary.
Will My Diet Affect Radiation Treatment?
Yes, diet will affect radiation treatment. Good nutrition is an important part of recovering from the side effects of radiation therapy. When you are eating well, you have the energy to do the activities you want to do, and your body is able to heal and fight infection. Most importantly, good nutrition can give you a sense of well-being. Since eating when you don't feel well can be difficult, a dietitian can help you find ways to get the nutrients you need during your radiation therapy.