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What is Radiation Therapy?

There are two types of radiation therapy for breast cancer. External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) is administered with a linear accelerator (LINAC) that generates and delivers high-energy X-ray beams to the breast cancer. The treatment is safe and will not burn or hurt you. EBRT destroys cancer cells while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue. It is the most common type of radiation therapy for women with breast cancer.

How Does Radiation Therapy Work?

External radiation therapy treatments, such as EBRT, are delivered daily Monday through Friday. Each treatment takes about 10 to 15 minutes. The treatment process is painless, safe and will not burn or hurt you.

Before treatment, your radiation therapy team develops a detailed plan for the entire treatment course. This includes scheduling all appointments and conducting a simulation that helps the radiation therapy team determine the exact position in which you will lie during each treatment.

During treatment, you lie on the treatment table while the LINAC moves around you, without touching you, delivering targeted radiation to your tumor.

After treatment, you can resume your normal activities.

What are the risks and side effects?

Side effects are common, though they’re usually mild and manageable. Some patients experience skin irritation such as redness or drying. Your nurse and physician will help guide your skin care regimen following treatment and may provide suggested skin products that best suit you. Following radiation treatment for breast cancer, patients are also asked to avoid wearing underwire bras for a period of time and should avoid shaving their underarm on the side of the body that was treated. Patients may also experience fatigue and should plan to get extra rest.

How effective is Radiation Therapy?

Effectiveness depends on any number of factors, including the specific diagnosis, other treatments that are given and how advanced the cancer is when treatment begins. In general, however, radiation therapy is regarded as a highly effective form of treatment, especially when used in combination with other methods like surgery or chemotherapy. Radiation therapy has been used for more than a century to treat cancer and has decades of clinical study and research validating its effectiveness.

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