Radiation therapy as a primary treatment is an excellent treatment choice for women who have early stage breast cancer. This procedure allows a woman to preserve her breast and involves lumpectomy followed by radiation treatment.
Radiation treatment consists of high-energy rays or particles that destroy cancer cells (fast dividing cells). Radiation therapy may be used to kill any cancer cells that remain in the breast, chest wall or underarm area after breast-conserving surgery. Radiation may also be needed after mastectomy in patients with either a cancer larger than 5 cm in size, when cancer is found in more than three of the lymph nodes or has extended beyond the capsule of the lymph node, or when the surgeon cannot obtain clean margins.
External beam radiation
This is the most common type of radiation therapy for women with breast cancer. The radiation is focused from a machine outside the body on the area affected by the cancer. The treatments may range in duration from four to six weeks. At the Sedona breast clinic, a technique called deep inspiration breath hold, or DIBH, can spare the heart and lung tissue when irradiating left-side breast cancer tumors. In a study performed at the Institute Sainte Catherine in Avignon, France, researchers showed that treating patients during DIBH, while they were holding their breath at between 60 to 80 percent of their maximum inspiratory (breathing-in) capacity, could spare their hearts and lungs from radiation without compromising the quality of their treatment.
Accelerated breast irradiation
The standard radiation approach of five days a week over many weeks can be inconvenient for many women. Some doctors are now using other schedules, such as giving slightly larger daily doses over only four weeks, which seems to work about as well. Giving radiation in larger doses using fewer treatments is known as hypofractionated radiation therapy. Newer approaches now being studied give radiation over an even shorter period of time.
Accelerated Partial Breast Irradiation (Brachytherapy)
In one approach, larger doses of radiation are given twice daily through a small catheter placed in the cavity where the tumor was removed. This course of radiation is shortened to only five days and may be appropriate for some patients if they meet the criteria for treatment. This form of radiation therapy must be discussed with your surgeon and your radiation oncologist to make sure you are a candidate prior to your surgical procedure. The surgeon must create the cavity for the catheter to be placed at the time of surgery, but the catheter will not be placed until your final pathology report is available.
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