All patients who undergo breast preserving surgery (lumpectomy) and some patients who have mastectomy, undergo radiotherapy for breast cancer treatment. Many patients wonder why breast cancer radiation therapy is required if the entire cancer tumor has been removed with clean margins (area of “normal” tissue around the cancer). Unfortunately even with perfect surgery, the cancer will come back in the same breast within 10 years in 30 percent of patients who undergo lumpectomy alone. Radiation therapy reduces the risk of recurrence to less than 5 percent which is the same outcome as mastectomy. Recurrence after radiation, while rare, requires mastectomy.
Breast Cancer Radiation Therapy Procedure
External beam radiation generally is given to the whole breast 5 days a week for 6 weeks. A “boost” to the lumpectomy site is given for an additional 5 days. Partial breast radiation is generally given twice a day through the device for 5 days then the balloon is removed.
Radiation Therapy Complications
Complications of breast cancer radiation therapy include problems with skin irritation, thickening of the skin, increased risk of breast infection and neck and throat pain. There is a very slight risk of cosmetic deformity. People with emphysema or COPD may notice an increase in symptoms and there may be cardiac injury in patients with existing cardiac issues.
During breast cancer radiation therapy patients may feel fatigue which increases as treatment progresses and resolves 1-2 weeks after treatment is completed. There will be a lower white blood cell count which is not dangerous. The minor side effects resolve over time; the serious side effects are extremely rare and generally should not prevent one from receiving radiation. In patients with breast cancer, the cancer poses the biggest risk to life, not the treatment modalities. Scientific study is ongoing to reduce the risks of all cancer therapies including surgery, chemo and radiation therapy for breast cancer.
Post Mastectomy Radiation Therapy
The majority of patients who undergo mastectomy do NOT require breast cancer radiation therapy. There is a higher rate of recurrence in patients with large or multiple tumors, and 3 or more positive axillary lymph nodes even after removal of the entire breast. The pathology will determine the risk. Radiation therapy in these cases dramatically decreases the risk that a new cancer will occur in the same breast. If you’re looking for effective radiation therapy for breast cancer, look no further than the highly trained breast cancer surgeons at our state-of-the-art Beverly Hills breast center.