Radiotherapy and oncology

Radiotherapy and oncology

radiotherapy for breast cancer

Radiotherapy uses controlled doses of radiation to kill cancer cells. It's usually given after surgery and chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells.

If you need radiotherapy, your treatment will begin about a month after your surgery or chemotherapy to give your body a chance to recover.

You'll probably have radiotherapy sessions 3 to 5 days a week, for 3 to 6 weeks. Each session will only last a few minutes.

The type of radiotherapy you have will depend on your cancer and the type of surgery you have. Some women may not need to have radiotherapy at all.

The types available are: 

  • breast radiotherapy – after breast-conserving surgery, radiation is applied to the whole of the remaining breast tissue
  • chest wall radiotherapy – after a mastectomy, radiotherapy is applied to the chest wall
  • breast boost – some women may be offered a boost of high-dose radiotherapy in the area where the cancer was removed; however, the boost may affect the appearance of the breast, particularly if you have large breasts, and can sometimes have other side effects, including hardening of the breast tissue (fibrosis)
  • radiotherapy to the lymph nodes – where radiotherapy is aimed at the armpit (axilla) and the surrounding area to kill any cancer that may be present in the lymph node

iranian surgery

After breast-conserving surgery 

If you had breast-conserving surgery (a wide local excision or lumpectomy) you will usually have radiotherapy to the remaining breast tissue on that side.

Radiotherapy is usually given to the whole breast. 

Your specialist may consider giving radiotherapy to the area of the breast where the cancer was removed if the risk of the cancer coming back is low and you’re going to be taking hormone therapy for at least five years. This is known as partial breast radiotherapy. 

After a mastectomy 

If you had a mastectomy for an invasive breast cancer, your specialist may recommend you have radiotherapy to the chest wall. 

This may be the case if: 

  • the cancer was large or near the chest wall 
  • there’s a high risk that cancer cells may have been left behind after surgery 
  • cancer is found in the lymph nodes under the arm 
  • you have a type of cancer called inflammatory breast cancer

If you’re going to be having breast reconstruction, radiotherapy may affect the timing and type of reconstruction. 

Radiotherapy to the lymph nodes

Radiotherapy can be given to the lymph nodes under the arm to destroy any cancer cells that may be present there.

It may also be given to the lymph nodes in the lower part of the neck around the collarbone, or in the area near the breastbone (sternum).

If radiotherapy to the lymph nodes is recommended, your specialist will explain why.

How radiotherapy is given 

Radiotherapy can be given in several ways and using different doses, depending on your treatment plan. 

The total dose is split into a course of smaller treatments (called fractions), usually given daily over a few weeks. 

It’s carried out by people trained to give radiotherapy, known as therapeutic radiographers. 

Radiotherapy is not available in every hospital, but each breast unit is linked to a hospital that has a radiotherapy department. 

  • External Beam Breast Cancer Radiation

External beam radiation (also known as traditional or whole breast radiation therapy) uses external beam radiation, like that of a regular x-ray, but the beam is highly focused and targets the cancerous area for two to three minutes. This form of treatment usually involves multiple appointments in an outpatient radiation center — as many as five days a week for five or six weeks. Certain situations may require a slightly higher dose of radiation over a shorter course of treatment, usually three to four weeks (called accelerated radiation.)

External breast cancer radiation used to be the most common type used for breast cancer. However, in more recent years internal radiation clinical trials have enabled more women to opt for this method if their cancer was caught early enough.  Internal radiation typically offers fewer noticeable side effects.

  • Internal Breast Cancer Radiation

Internal radiation is a form of partial breast radiation. During the treatment, the physician or surgeon inserts a radioactive liquid using needles, wires, or a catheter in order to target the area where the cancer originally began to grow and tissue closest to the tumor site to kill any possible remaining cancer cells.

When deciding which areas to treat and how, your treatment team will consider factors such as the location, grade, size and stage of your cancer. 


Side effects from radiation therapy differ significantly depending on the type of treatment and which tissues are treated. Side effects tend to be most pronounced toward the end of your radiation treatment. After your sessions are complete, it may be several days or weeks before side effects clear up.

Common side effects during treatment may include:

  • Mild to moderate fatigue
  • Skin irritation — such as itchiness, redness, peeling or blistering — similar to what you might experience with a sunburn
  • Breast swelling
  • Changes in skin sensation

Depending on which tissues are exposed, radiation therapy may cause or increase the risk of:

  • Arm swelling (lymphedema) if the lymph nodes under the arm are treated
  • Damage or complications leading to removal of an implant in women who have a mastectomy and undergo breast reconstruction with an implant
  • Rib fracture or chest wall tenderness, rarely
  • Inflamed lung tissue or heart damage, rarely
  • Secondary cancers, such as bone or muscle cancers (sarcomas) or lung cancer, very rarely

10 common questions about Radiotherapy and oncology

1What is radiotherapy and oncology?
Radiation therapy kills cancer cells or slows their growth by damaging their DNA. Credit: National Cancer Institute. Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) is a cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors
2What's the difference between chemotherapy and radiotherapy?
Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy particles or waves to destroy or damage cancer cells. ... Radiation therapy differs from chemotherapy — it is used to treat just the tumor, so it affects only the part of the body that has cancer.
3What are the most common side effects of radiation therapy?
The most common early side effects are fatigue and skin problems. You might get others, such as hair loss and nausea, depending on where you get radiation
4What cancers is radiotherapy used for?
Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays, such as x-rays, to treat cancer. It destroys cancer cells in the area where it is given.
5Do you lose hair with radiotherapy?
Your doctor or nurse can tell you if your treatment is likely to affect your hair. ... Not all chemotherapy drugs make your hair fall out. Radiotherapy can cause your hair to fall out, but only in the area being treated. Hair does not always grow back after radiotherapy.
6At what stage of cancer is radiotherapy used?
Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses beams of intense energy to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy most often uses X-rays, but protons or other types of energy also can be used. The term "radiation therapy" most often refers to external beam radiation therapy
7Is radiotherapy more effective than chemotherapy?
It is a treatment for cancer using radiation, usually X-rays, to damage the DNA in cells. Healthy cells can repair the damage. Rapidly dividing cancerous cells cannot, so they they die. ... It says radiotherapy cures more people than chemotherapy, is 13 times more cost effective and is targeted to within millimetres
8What is the success rate of radiation therapy?
Radiation Therapy 95% Effective for Prostate Cancer Men with localised prostate cancer who are treated with external-beam radiation therapy have a cure rate of 95.5% for intermediate-risk prostate cancer and 91.3% for high-risk prostate cancer. The 5-year survival rate using this treatment is 98.8% overall.
9Should I avoid the sun after radiation therapy?
Patients who have undergone radiation treatment for breast cancer should be careful about sun exposure in the radiated areas, especially for the first few years after treatment. ... Significant sun exposure can cause a "recall" of the radiation skin reaction, even after the acute skin reaction has resolved
10What should you avoid during radiation?
Vitamins to Avoid During Radiation. Your radiation oncologist may tell you to avoid taking certain supplemental antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamins C, A, D, and E, while you're having radiation therapy. ... Throughout your treatment, do your best to eat a well-balanced diet that contains all of the vitamins you need


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