Breast Health Program

Whole breast XRT (radiation therapy)

Whole breast radiation treatment usually involves external beam radiation therapy to the entire breast and the surrounding area which takes approximately five weeks to complete. “Boost” radiation therapy to the tumor bed, which is usually marked with surgical clips requires one additional week of radiation therapy.

For external radiation therapy, a machine beams X-rays to the breast, possibly the underarm lymph nodes and sometimes the lymph nodes above the collar bone. The usual schedule for radiation therapy is five days a week, Monday through Friday. The actual treatment time is short, but setting up and positioning for the treatment is essential to treating the correct areas.  

If you are having radiation therapy as primary treatment for early stage breast cancer, a qualified, board certified radiation therapist experienced in this form of treatment should do it.

Advantages: The breast is not removed. Lumpectomy with radiation therapy as a primary treatment for breast cancer appears to be as effective as mastectomy for treating early stage breast cancer. Usually there is not much deformity of surrounding tissues.

Disadvantages: A full course of treatment requires short daily visits to the hospital as an outpatient for approximately five weeks. Treatment may produce a skin reaction like sunburn, and may cause tiredness. Itching or peeling of the skin may also occur. Radiation therapy can sometimes cause a temporary decrease in white blood cell count, which may increase the risk of infection. You maintain your breast and, therefore, have a variable risk of local recurrence, which would necessitate mastectomy should cancer return. Post-mastectomy reconstruction options may be limited after radiation therapy to the breast. Radiation therapy may change the feel and color of the skin the breast as well as the size. 

What is IMRT?

Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy is a radiation delivery technique. It allows the radiation oncologist to decrease the amount of harmful radiation to normal tissues. The anterior border of the heart and the left lung are particularly vulnerable to radiation exposure. This new technique can spare the normal tissues while adequately treating the breast.

Left sided breast cancers are the ones that will benefit most from this form of radiation therapy.

Ask your radiation oncologist if IMRT would be correct for you.


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