Radiation therapy as primary treatment is a promising technique for women who have early stage breast cancer. This procedure allows a woman to keep her breast and involves lumpectomy followed by radiation (x-ray) treatment.
Once a biopsy has been done and breast cancer has been diagnosed, radiation treatment usually involves the following steps:
- Surgery to remove some or all of the underarm lymph nodes to see if the cancer has spread beyond the breast;
- External radiation therapy to the breast and surrounding area; and
- "Booster" radiation therapy to the biopsy site.
For external radiation therapy, a machine beams x-rays to the breast and possibly the underarm lymph nodes. The usual schedule for radiation therapy is 5 days a week for about 5 weeks. In some instances, a "booster" or concentrated dose of radiation may be given to the area where the cancer was located. This can be done with an electron beam or internally with an implant of radioactive materials.
If you are having radiation therapy as primary treatment for early stage breast cancer, it should be done by a qualified, board-certified radiation therapist who is experienced in this form of treatment.
- Advantages -The breast is not removed. Lumpectomy with radiation therapy as a primary treatment for breast cancer currently appears to be as effective as mastectomy for treating early stage breast cancer. Because this is a new treatment procedure, researchers are continuing to collect information on long-term results. Usually there is not much deformity of surrounding tissues. This skin usually regains a normal appearance after treatment is completed.
- Disadvantages -A full course of treatment requires short daily visits to the hospital as an outpatient for about 5 weeks, as well as hospitalization for a few days if implant radiation therapy is used. Treatment may produce a skin reaction like a 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.
For detailed information about radiation therapy, see .