Radiation Therapy and Breast Cancer

Common after a mastectomy, this treatment uses radiation to destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be used to kill any cancer cells remaining after surgery, to reduce tumour size before surgery (neoadjuvant) or to relieve pain in cases of metastatic cancer. It can reduce the risk of recurrence by 50%.

When administering radiation therapy, the radiologist protects the healthy cells around the tumour as much as possible, but some cells may be damaged and this can cause side effects, such as:
● Fatigue
● Changes in breast size and shape
● Breast and shoulder pain
● Lymphedema
● Red, dry or itchy skin
● Impaired cardiac function
● Lung inflammation

Studies are underway to reduce radiation doses without affecting the therapy’s effectiveness and to identify which patients actually benefit from the treatment. For example, radiation therapy can be unnecessary in older patients with tumours that are at a low risk of recurrence. Various techniques are being studied (hypofractionated radiotherapy, partial breast irradiation and intraoperative radiotherapy).

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