Standard radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses targeted, high-energy X-rays or other forms of radiation to kill cancer cells.
The goal of radiation therapy is to kill any cancer that might be left in the breast or nearby lymph nodes after breast cancer surgery.
Radiation therapy is an option for many people who have:
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS, non-invasive breast cancer)
Radiation therapy is standard treatment for most people who have:
Learn about emerging areas in radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy and DCIS
Radiation therapy is often recommended for people who are treated with a lumpectomy (also called a breast-conserving surgery) for DCIS.
In rare cases, radiation therapy is recommended after a mastectomy for DCIS.
Learn more about treatment for DCIS.
For a summary of research studies on a lumpectomy plus radiation therapy in the treatment of DCIS, visit the Breast Cancer Research Studies section.
Radiation therapy and invasive breast cancer
After a lumpectomy
Radiation therapy is usually recommended after a lumpectomy.
Radiation therapy can lower the risk of :
- Breast cancer recurrence (a return of cancer) in the treated breast
- Breast cancer death
Some women 65 and older who have small, lymph node-negative invasive breast cancers that are estrogen receptor-positive (and who will get hormone therapy) may be able to avoid radiation therapy after a lumpectomy [8,23].
After a mastectomy
Many people who have a mastectomy don’t need radiation therapy.
However, in some cases, radiation therapy is used after a mastectomy to treat the chest wall and lymph nodes. These can include the lymph nodes in the underarm area (axillary nodes), around the collarbone or near the breastbone (internal mammary nodes).
Although the exact treatment for breast cancer varies from person to person, evidence-based guidelines help ensure high-quality care. These guidelines are based on the latest research and agreement among experts.
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) are respected organizations that regularly review and update their guidelines.
In addition, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has treatment overviews.
Talk with your health care team about which treatment guidelines they use.
After you get a recommended treatment plan from your health care team, study your treatment options. Together with your health care team, make thoughtful, informed decisions that are best for you. Each treatment option has risks and benefits to consider along with your own values and lifestyle.
Importance of following your breast cancer treatment plan
Breast cancer treatment is most effective when all parts of the treatment plan are followed as prescribed.
You’re not alone
If you’re facing radiation therapy, it’s normal to feel worried or scared about going through treatment and the side effects you may have. Many people have been where you are today. They had the same fears. They’ve gone through breast cancer treatment, recovered and are living their lives.
Sharing experiences and advice with others going through radiation therapy or those who’ve finished treatment may help. You can do this in a support group or by connecting one-on-one with another breast cancer survivor.
You can also talk with your health care providers about how you’re coping. They care about your overall well-being and can help you find ways to improve it. In addition to suggesting a support group, they may connect you to another member of your health care team, such as a social worker or patient navigator, for support. They may also refer you to a counselor.
Our Support section has list of resources for finding local and online support groups and other resources.
Learn about healthy ways to cope with stress.
Susan G. Komen® Support Resources