This is the treatment of a certain body area with carefully measured and administered Radiation for the treatment of cancer.
In breast cancer radiation is delivered to the breast and axilla area for local control of the cancer, or could be delivered for areas of metastasis to achieve symptomatic control.
Radiation therapy is arranged in special centres, planning is done followed by administering the radiation over a period of 3-4 weeks with 15-20 minutes session each day, excluding the weekends and holidays.
Indications of radiotherapy in Breast Cancer:
After Breast Conservative Surgery, where the remaining breast tissue is radiated to reduce the local recurrence.
After removal of the whole breast if the cancer is large, involved margins, or significant involvement of the lymph nodes.
Side effect of Radiation Therapy:
Radiation therapy can be associated with certain side effect. Patient may or may not develop some of the following:
Feeling tiered, this usually starts midway through the treatment and lasts for few weeks after. Patients recover completely from this side effect.
Skin reaction to the radiation field: Presents as redness, itchiness and occasionally skin breakdown. This side effect reaches its maximum few days after the last session of treatment. Ointment is provided to help control the symptoms and usually settles down after few weeks. It may leave behind a light brown patch in the area.
Breast changes: Breast swelling during the treatment phase can be noticed, while the breast becomes slightly firmer and smaller after the treatment
Lymphedema of the arm: This is related to scarring of the lymphatics that drain the upper arm on the side of cancer. The incidence increases if radiotherapy is administered after the removal of the lymph nodes from the armpit (axillary Dissection). Incidence in the literature shows that this complication can be around 5-10%. Physiotherapy and special compression stockings is required occasionally.
Scarring of the lung: this is due to the radiation field includes the lung. The radiation planning and the new radiation machines (Linear Accelerators) that moves around the patient ensure that the lung and heart get the very minimum dose of radiation. Thus this complication is not significant with the current technology, and mostly has no clinical significance.
Effect on the heart, when radiation involves the left chest wall. The radiation therapy can increase the chances of hear disease in the long term.