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Destruction of Cancerous Cells by Radiation

Radiotherapy is the use of radiation to destroy cancerous cells by repeatedly shooting strong doses of rays, at different angles, onto the tumour and the surrounding area: breast, skin, rib cage wall, and lymph nodes.

This treatment is given in a hospital setting, usually once a day for several weeks depending on the treatment plan. The dose of radiation, the method of applying it and the schedule of radiation sessions varies from one patient to another. Under this intensive attack, the cancerous cells do not have time to regenerate between daily sessions and are finally destroyed.

Radiotherapy is used in the following cases to treat breast cancer:

  • after surgery or chemotherapy, to eliminate the remaining cancerous cells and reduce the risk of a new cancer (relapse). This is known as adjuvant radiotherapy;
  • in combination with other treatments in stage 3-cancer (locally advanced cancer);
  • to treat a breast cancer that reoccurred in the area where a mastectomy was performed;
  • to relieve pain or control the symptoms of an advanced breast cancer. This is palliative radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy is contraindicated for people who have already been treated with radiation in the thorax or who suffer from certain lung, heart and other disorders. If you or one of your loved ones is concerned about this treatment, ask your medical team if it is appropriate for your state of health.

Side Effects

As radiotherapy also damages healthy (non-cancerous) cells, it can cause certain side effects that vary depending on the size of the area treated, the total dose of radiation used and the treatment schedule:

  • increased fatigue felt by the person being treated;
  • skin that is either red or sensitive to the touch in the treated area;
  • pain in the treated breast, in the skin, whose texture may change, as well as in the nipple and the fold under the breast;
  • swelling or a change in the size of the treated breast.

However, these effects diminish and disappear altogether after the radiation sessions, as the healthy cells regenerate.