Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

Effective treatment to target and destroy cancer cells.

Your doctor may recommend radiation therapy as part of your breast cancer treatment plan. Radiation therapy can reduce the risk of your breast cancer returning by about 70 percent. We often use radiation therapy alongside breast cancer surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells in the chest and armpit areas. We also can combine it with other treatments, such as chemotherapy.

Do I need radiation therapy for my breast cancer?

About two-thirds of patients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer will need radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is required to destroy any microscopic breast cancer cells in the:

  • Breast after a lumpectomy operation (removal of just the lump from the breast)
  • Chest wall after a mastectomy (removal of the entire breast) if the tumor is greater than 5 centimeters
  • Lymph nodes along with the breast or chest wall if the lymph nodes contain cancer

What are the benefits of breast cancer radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy allows us to shrink and kill breast cancer cells without harming nearby tissue or organs. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer in an early stage, radiation therapy can eliminate the need for you to have a mastectomy.

Other benefits of radiation therapy as part of your breast cancer treatment plan include:

  • Better outcomes
  • Less chance of your breast cancer returning
  • Shorter treatment times

In most cases, you can receive your radiation treatments in a period of three and a half to four weeks — a much shorter timeline than in years past. Some patients may be able to get their treatments in as little as one week. This means less inconvenience and less time away from work, family and other responsibilities.

What types of breast cancer radiation therapy are available?

We will tailor your radiation treatment plan to your specific breast cancer. Our radiation oncologists offer the latest breast cancer treatment therapies, including:

  • Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT): uses imaging technology such as X-rays and CT scans to precisely direct radiation beams onto the tumor
  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT): delivers radiation using proton beams that conform to the shape of the tumor

Specialized care for breast cancer of the left breast

If your cancer is located in the left breast, you may be a candidate for MRI-guided radiation therapy. We were the first in the world to offer this therapy to patients. This is a form of IMRT that uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to deliver precise radiation treatments. MRI-guided radiation therapy lets us ensure that we avoid nearby critical areas, such as the heart, while still delivering effective radiation doses to your tumor.

We also offer a radiation therapy technique called active breathing control (ABC) for patients with cancer in the left breast. During this treatment, you will hold your breath several times while you receive targeted doses of radiation. This helps move your heart away from the treatment area, protecting it from radiation exposure. The beam of radiation you receive for your breast cancer will only be active when your heart has moved away from the treatment area.

How will I receive radiation therapy for my breast cancer?

Our radiation oncologists use advanced equipment to deliver radiation therapy in one of three ways:

  • Brachytherapy: Radiation seeds inserted into the body during or after breast cancer surgery that release radiation over a period of time
  • External radiation: A machine in a radiation oncology suite that delivers radiation from outside the body
  • Internal radiation: In this newer method, we inject small amounts of a liquid radioactive substance into specific sites within the body
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