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What You Need to Know About Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

This treatment is also called radiotherapy. It’s one way to treat breast cancer.

The goal of radiation treatment is to kill cancer cells. It works by directing strong X-rays at the tumor. To get this treatment, you see a radiation oncologist. This doctor decides on your treatment plan. The plan determines what kind of radiation you’ll have, how often you'll get it, and how long the treatment will last.

To help decide on treatment, your radiation oncologist may do some imaging tests. These may include X-rays and computed tomography scans (CT scans). Imaging tests take pictures of the structures inside your body. They help show where you need treatment. You may have the same tests after treatment to see how well it worked.

Making the decision to have radiation therapy

Your doctor may suggest radiation if you fall into one of the following categories:

  • You have an early stage breast cancer. You would get radiation after surgery. This is called adjuvant treatment. Radiation is often used after breast-conserving surgery. It is sometimes used after mastectomy. The goal is to kill cancer cells left behind after surgery, which lowers the chance the cancer will come back.

  • You have metastatic breast cancer, meaning the cancer has spread. The goal of radiation in this case is mainly to ease symptoms of the cancer. 

Here are some other issues you and your doctor should consider as you decide whether to have radiation treatment:

  • The location of the facility where radiation is given and your ability to get to it every day for the duration of your therapy.

  • Whether you've had radiation treatment to your chest area in the past.

  • Whether you plan to have breast reconstruction in the future.

  • Any conditions you have that prevent you from getting radiation.

You'll have to discuss your situation with your doctor and weigh the benefits and risks of radiation therapy before making a decision. 


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