Radiotherapy is a local treatment, given to a specific area and doesn’t affect the whole body. Radiotherapy uses high energy radiation (X-rays) to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence after surgery as it stops cancer cells from dividing properly and as a result they are destroyed. However, it will also have some effect on normal cells in the area being treated. We will recommend radiotherapy for most women after breast conserving surgery and for some women after mastectomy. Radiotherapy treatment for our patients is given at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre.
We plan radiotherapy very carefully and design the treatment for each individual patient to target the areas we need to and to avoid as much healthy tissue as possible. This will involve a ‘planning’ appointment before you start radiotherapy, which is longer than your normal treatment appointments will be. At your planning appointment a CT scan will be done to show exactly where the treatment needs to be given. Small tattoo dots will be put onto your skin next to your breast to make sure the machine can be lined up in exactly the correct place every time you have a treatment.
To avoid harming normal tissue too much the total treatment is split into a course of smaller treatments; usually these are given Monday to Friday with a rest at weekends, and go on for about 3 weeks. The common side effects from radiotherapy are redness like sunburn of the skin in the area, and sometimes there may be peeling. Some people also experience tiredness during the treatment. Your Oncology doctor and Breast Care Nurse will give you advice on how to look after your skin during radiotherapy to minimise the side effects.