Radiotherapy is a localised treatment, which uses high energy beam of X-rays to destroy cancer cells in specific parts of the body. It can be used to treat primary cancer or advanced cancer. It may be used as the only treatment, or used in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy and/or hormonal therapy. It can be used to reduce the size of the cancer and relieve pain, discomfort and other symptoms.
The type of radiotherapy used in breast cancer management is called External Beam Radiotherapy. It involves the use of a machine (called a Linear Accelerator) that directs the high energy beam of X-rays to the breast/ chest wall, or occasionally to the armpit and/or lower neck lymph nodes of the affected side. The aim of the treatment is to destroy any cancer cells that may have remained after your breast cancer surgery, in order to reduce the chance of the cancer coming back locally, i.e. to achieve good loco-regional control.
Radiotherapy is given as an outpatient Monday to Friday and takes about 20 minutes each treatment. A course of treatment will takes 3-6 weeks to complete. The timing of radiotherapy will depend on how long it takes for you to recover from surgery and what other treatments are required, such as chemotherapy or target therapy or hormonal therapy.
Radiotherapy is well tolerated. However, like many therapeutic procedures, radiotherapy may cause some side effects such as heaviness in the breasts, redness or discoloration of the breasts, itching or skin irritation of the targeted area, and fatigue.
After your breast cancer surgery, with your permission, your surgeon will discuss your case in the breast cancer multidisciplinary meeting prior to referring you to see a radiation oncologist. During that consultant, your radiotherapy treatment will be fully explained by your radiation oncologist, radiation therapist and/or nurse, who will be more than happy to answer any questions that you might have.
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