The goal of radiation oncology is to eliminate microscopic cancer cells in the breast area where the tumor was removed, or elsewhere in the breast. Studies have proven that whole breast radiation oncology significantly decreases the likelihood the tumor will come back in the breast. For more information on radiation therapy, please visit the Health Information Center's Breast Cancer Treatment .
Whole breast radiation therapy is the most common type of external beam radiation, and is considered the standard of care. This is accomplished by concentrating (aiming) an external beam of radiation to the affected area.
This is done after lumpectomy and in certain cases after mastectomy and chemotherapy. The treatments are painless, and are usually delivered Monday through Friday for 6 to 7 weeks. Each treatment generally lasts less than half an hour.
Accelerated partial breast radiation therapy is different from whole breast radiation. The treatment is delivered to only part of the breast, in the area where the tumor was removed. This is being studied at several institutions, including SUNY Upstate/University Hospital. Your doctor will decide if you qualify for this type of treatment, or if you are eligible to participate in one of the clinical trials. A specially designed balloon catheter is placed at the time of surgery (lumpectomy) or shortly after, and prior to any chemotherapy. Radiation is delivered twice daily for 5 days, and takes less than half an hour. The procedure is painless. The catheter can be easily removed by deflating the balloon in the office. While this is a newer technique, studies thus far have shown it to be equally effective when compared to standard external beam radiation therapy. According to research, this spares more of the healthy breast tissue, thus reducing side effects.
The most common technique to deliver the accelerated partial breast radiation therapy is with a MammoSite® balloon catheter. Other methods are 3-dimensional conformal radiotherapy (3D-CRT), multi-catheter brachytherapy, or intra-operative radiation therapy. If you qualify, you and your doctor can determine which technique is best for you.
The MammoSite balloon catheter brachytherapy is a single catheter with a balloon on the end and is implanted into the breast where the tumor was removed. The catheter is connected to a machine to deliver a radiation dose. The radiation oncologist directs a special computer to guide a small radioactive seed inside the catheter which remains in the site for only a few minutes. Once the therapy is completed, the radioactive seed is removed.
The 3D-CRT also treats part of the breast. This is similar to external beam radiation therapy, but the treatment area is smaller and the overall time is shorter.
Side effects from radiation therapy can include fatigue, skin irritation similar to a mild to moderate sunburn, breast swelling, and breast and muscle soreness. These are temporary and most of them can be treated with medication or skin lotion. Your radiation oncologist will work with you to prevent these, and if you develop them, provide appropriate treatments.