Going Through Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy can harm normal tissue, so it’s carefully planned and precisely delivered. This helps ensure the radiation kills as many cancer cells as possible while doing as little harm as possible to other parts of your body.
Radiation therapy is planned specifically for your breast cancer, the shape of your body and your internal anatomy. This is why sessions can’t be split between different treatment centers.
Your treatment plan is based on:
- The tumor size, type and location
- The number of lymph nodes with cancer
- The type of breast surgery (and lymph node surgery) you had
- The shape of your breast or chest wall, and the shape and location of nearby organs (such as your heart and lungs)
Your radiation oncologist oversees the radiation planning session.
You will lie on a special table while your radiation oncologist decides the proper dose of radiation and where to give the radiation. Your radiation oncologist will use a CT scan to guide the radiation planning.
During the planning session, your radiation oncologist will put small marks (about the size of a pinhead) on your skin.
These marks ensure you are correctly positioned for each treatment. They may be ink spots, or they may be permanent tattoos. If they are ink spots, don’t wash them off until you finish all of your radiation therapy.
You may be asked to hold your breath during the planning session. This is one way to minimize radiation exposure to the heart.
Radiation therapy sessions
Your radiation oncologist leads a team of technicians and nurses. The team will work with you at each radiation therapy session.
What should I expect?
During each session, you will lie on a special table.
You may be asked to hold your breath while the radiation is given. This is one way to minimize radiation exposure to the heart.
Each session lasts about 10-20 minutes. Most of this time is spent positioning your body to ensure the treatment is given exactly as planned.
With any standard radiation therapy you will not be radioactive when you leave the radiation treatment center. You will not pose any radiation risk to your family or your pets.
How often will I go for treatment?
Your schedule of radiation sessions is designed to treat your breast cancer. So, schedules vary from person to person.
Treatment is most often given once a day, 5 days a week, for 1-6 weeks.
After a lumpectomy, many women now get hypofractionated whole-breast radiation therapy which uses a slightly higher dose of radiation per session. This reduces the number of treatment sessions and shortens the overall course (5 days a week, for 1-4 weeks). Hypofractionated radiation therapy is under study for use after a mastectomy (learn more).
Things to remember while going through radiation therapy
Things to remember
Adapted from National Cancer Institute materials .
Transportation, lodging, child care and elder care assistance
If you don’t live near the radiation treatment center, it can be hard to get to and from therapy sessions.
Sometimes, there are programs that help with local or long-distance transportation and lodging.
There are also programs to help you with child and elder care costs.
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