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 women who have:
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS, non-invasive breast cancer)
Radiation therapy is standard treatment for most women who have:
Learn about emerging areas in radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy and DCIS
Radiation therapy is often recommended for women who are treated with lumpectomy (also called breast-conserving surgery) for DCIS.
In rare cases, radiation therapy is recommended following a mastectomy for DCIS.
Learn more about treatment for DCIS.
For a summary of research studies on lumpectomy plus radiation therapy in the treatment of DCIS, visit the Breast Cancer Research Studies section.
Radiation therapy and invasive breast cancer
Radiation therapy is usually recommended after lumpectomy.
Radiation therapy can lower the risk of :
- Breast cancer recurrence in the treated breast
- Breast cancer death
Some women 70 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 lumpectomy .
Many women who have a mastectomy don’t need radiation therapy.
However, in some cases, radiation therapy is used after 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, 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.
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, remember, 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 have finished treatment may help.
We have a list of resources for finding local and online support groups. Your health care team may also be able to help you find a local support group.
Learn more about social support and support groups.
SUSAN G. KOMEN® SUPPORT RESOURCES