Radiation therapy typically involves using a large machine called a linear accelerator to deliver precise amounts of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. The radiation stops the reproduction of cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy tissues. Radiation therapy has been shown to improve survival in women with breast cancer.
WebMD senior writer Miranda Hitti interviewed breast cancer survivors as
part of a series for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The series, called “Me
& the Girls,” explores the personal stories of these women after they were
diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast cancer survivor Ilene Smith, MS, RD, 49, lives in the New York area.
In late October 2007, Smith felt a lump in her left breast while on a
conference call for work. "I got cold, and so I put my hand under my arm, and I
Radiation therapy is painless. However, some women experience side effects, which can include:
Redness, discomfort, and dryness of the skin in the treated area. Your doctor will recommend a specific treatment if this happens. The redness can take as long as a year to fade.
Fatigue, usually starting two to three weeks after treatment begins. The fatigue increases during the duration of treatment and goes away about a month after treatment ends. Fatigue should not disable you. Most women cope by taking a nap or by going to bed earlier.
Reduced blood counts. Your blood will be checked regularly, especially if you are also receiving chemotherapy.
Sometimes women also experience a sore mouth or throat, or dry mouth, if these areas are irradiated.