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"Booster" Radiation Therapy

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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"Booster" Radiation Therapy

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About 1 or 2 weeks after the external radiation therapy has been completed, nearly all women will receive a concentrated "booster" dose of radiation to the area where the breast lump was located.

This treatment may be done either externally, using an electron beam, or internally, using an implant of radioactive material. The electron beam "booster" is delivered by a type of linear accelerator machine similar to the one used in external radiation therapy. The treatment procedure is also similar to that of external radiation therapy, with the patient coming to the hospital daily for 5 to 10 days. If you have this type of booster treatment, you may notice an increase in skin redness at the site of the electron beam treatments-this is normal.

The implant procedure requires a short hospital stay of 2 to 3 days. Thin plastic tubes are threaded through the breast tissue where the original lump was removed. This may be done using either a local or general anesthesia. The number and location of the tubes depend on the size and location of the tumor that was removed. The doctor may take an x-ray of your breast after inserting the tubes to make sure they are in the correct position. When you return to your hospital room, radioactive seeds (usually iridium) will be inserted into the tubes. The implant will remain in your breast for 2 to 3 days, during which time it will deliver approximately 2,000 rads to the surrounding tissue.

While the implant is in place, you will stay in a private room because the implant emits small amounts of radiation, which may be a possible risk to those who come in close contact with you. For that reason, visitors and the nursing staff will have to limit their time with you.

You may notice some breast sensitivity around the area of the implant, especially if you move around a lot, but you should not have much pain or other discomfort. If you are uncomfortable, ask your nurse for some pain medication. You'll be free to move around your room, sit and read, do needlework or write letters.

The implant will be removed in your room, without anesthesia. The process feels very much like having stitches taken out. Once it is removed there is no risk of radiation exposure to others and you can usually go home.

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