Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is often done in conjunction with surgery. It’s a targeted therapy designed to kill cancer cells that may still be in the body. It can be used at the site of the original cancer or in areas where the cancer has spread. In most cases, the entire breast is treated using whole-breast radiotherapy.

In the Vasek Polak Radiation Oncology Department, women have access to the latest in radiation therapy technology including the Trilogy™ linear accelerator, which allows patients to receive higher-dose radiation treatments precisely targeted to the tumor in shorter sessions. This keeps you more comfortable, spares healthy tissue and may even improve your overall outcome.

Following a lumpectomy, radiation is focused on the breast and sometimes the surrounding lymph node area to destroy any stray cells that may have been left behind. This treatment helps reduce the chance of a recurrence of the cancer.

Radiation therapy is also sometimes given after a mastectomy, but only if there is a high risk of cancer recurring in that area. Our plastic surgeons and medical oncologists work together to offer an integrated program of post-mastectomy radiation to women who have undergone immediate reconstruction and require radiation treatment. This approach often results in excellent local control of the cancer as well as a low rate of radiation-related problems with reconstruction.

Patients who need other treatments, like chemotherapy, may also receive radiation after chemotherapy is completed.

Accelerated partial breast irradiation 

Accelerated partial breast irradiation, or APBI, is a localized form of radiation treatment where only part of the breast is treated. APBI delivers a highly effective dose of radiation while greatly reducing treatment time. This procedure requires close collaboration between the surgeon who removes the breast tumor, and the radiation oncologist who treats the tumor area after surgery. APBI can be delivered internally in the breast using catheters, radioactive seeds or externally using different tangential X-ray fields. If APBI is delivered internally, a specialized catheter is inserted into the cavity left behind after removal of the tumor. The device remains in place for approximately eight to 10 days.

There are currently three types of single-entry breast brachytherapy devices. Which one to use is chosen by the surgeon and radiation oncologist based on the size and shape of the lumpectomy cavity. Each brachytherapy device is designed to hold the radioactive seed in designated positions within the device for defined lengths of time to insure radiation of the targeted breast tissue immediately surrounding the lumpectomy cavity.

During APBI treatment, the iridium seed, about the size of a grain of rice, is inserted into the catheters. The seed is within the device in various dwell positions for a total of five to 10 minutes. The seed is withdrawn and then re-inserted six hours later, for a total of two treatments a day.

Radiation treatments today are very precise, resulting in little harm to surrounding skin or healthy tissues. It is generally very well tolerated, but after approximately three weeks there may be some side effects, such as a sunburn-like condition on the skin, fatigue, discoloration of the skin, or swelling and heaviness in the breast.

Your Margie Petersen Breast Center Nurse Navigator and physician will provide education and details about your personalized care prior to you beginning treatment.