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Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. Radiation may be used for breast cancer:
The amount of radiation given during treatment, and when and how it is given, will be different for each woman.
Breast cancer is usually treated with external beam radiation therapy. A machine directs radiation to the tumour and some of the surrounding tissue.
Radiation therapy is almost always given after breast-conserving surgery (BCS). Research has shown that radiation after BCS helps reduce the chance of cancer recurring in the breast. The entire breast, skin and chest wall are treated with radiation. The lymph nodes may or may not be treated.
Radiation therapy is usually given once a day, 5 days a week, for about 4–6 weeks after BCS.
Sometimes an extra dose (called a boost) is given to the area from where the cancer was removed to further reduce the chance of cancer recurring. A boost may be given:
After a mastectomy, external beam radiation therapy may be given to the chest wall and lymph nodes if there is a high chance of recurrence. Radiation therapy is usually given after mastectomy if:
Radiation is given once the wound (incision) heals after breast cancer surgery, which usually takes about 3–4 weeks. The best period of time between surgery and starting radiation therapy is not really known, but in many treatment centres radiation therapy is started within 8–12 weeks after surgery.
In some situations, chemotherapy and radiation treatments may be given at the same time. More commonly, if chemotherapy and radiation therapy are both part of the treatment plan, radiation treatments are delayed until chemotherapy is finished. This is because the side effects of certain drugs may be worse when given in combination with radiation. These drugs include:
Some women may not be able to have radiation therapy because of certain medical conditions or treatment history, including:
For cancer survivors, the Canadian Cancer Society provides a unique opportunity to celebrate their courage in the fight against cancer. During hundreds of Relay For Life events across the country, thousands of survivors join together for the Survivors’ Victory Lap.