Breast Cancer Radiation Therapy

patient receiving radiaton therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays aimed at the tumor site to kill cancer cells. We typically use this therapy after surgery to destroy any remaining cancerous cells in the breast, chest wall or underarm area.

What to Expect During Radiation Treatment

Usually, we deliver radiation therapy in a series of treatments over six to seven weeks, on a Monday through Friday schedule. The appointments usually last 15 to 20 minutes, although the radiation treatment is only one to two minutes in length.

You will not feel any pain or discomfort during your treatment. After treatment, side effects may include swelling and heaviness in the breast, sunburn-like changes in the treated area and possibly fatigue. Usually, these changes of the breast tissue and skin go away in six to 12 months. In some women, the breast becomes smaller and firmer after radiation therapy.

Radiation Therapy Technology at Virginia Mason

Our team continues to incorporate new technologies into the care of our breast cancer patients. The latest addition to our technology is Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT).

With IMRT, treatment planning is accomplished with a quick CT scan of the breast region. A three-dimensional plan is then constructed by the radiation oncologist and dosimetrist that precisely contours the radiation dose to treat the breast and avoid normal structures such as the lung and heart.

This technology represents an improvement over conventional radiation therapy in that the planning and delivery of treatment is faster, and the dose distribution is more uniform, resulting in less skin and soft tissue reactions.

We are excited to be able to offer this new technology to all of our breast cancer patients and anticipate additional innovations in the future, such as partial breast radiation in which treatment is completed within five days. Selected patients with small breast tumors that have been removed may be eligible for this treatment.