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Treatments After Breast Cancer Radiation

written by: Dr. Sloan, MD. • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 2/26/2011

This article outlines the treatments after breast cancer radiation, including the indications and side-effects of radiation therapy for breast cancer. Treatment for breast cancer after radiation and the medical follow-up is equally crucial to ensure the progress of the cancer is under control.

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    Treatment for Breast Cancer After Radiation

    Usually breast cancer radiotherapy is given either by itself or combined with chemotherapy after surgical removal of the tumor. Chemotherapy given would be based on the stage and types of breast cancer. If it is the hormonal sensitive type of breast cancer, then the hormonal blocking type of drug would be considered like Tamoxifen. Ultimately, the aim is to save the breast as far as possible while killing the cancer cells and prevent the spread of cancer to distant organs.

    The schedule for the medical follow-up and specific treatment for breast cancer after radiation varies according to the patient’s fitness status and medical conditions. However, the general recommendations would be:

    • Physical exam every few months for the first several years after treatment and then every 6 to 12 months or so after that

    • Annual mammograms for both the breasts

    • Other diagnostic tests like Computed Tomography (CT), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Ultrasound (US), Chest X Ray (CXR), bone scan or even Positron Emission Tomography (PET) may be needed if symptoms suggestive of cancer recurrence

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    Treatment for Side-Effects of Breast Cancer Radiation

    The side-effects of radiation therapy for breast cancer that requires immediate attention is reddening and soreness of the skin which can be uncomfortable and annoying. The skin reaction may resemble sunburn with mild to moderate pink or redness patches associated with burning and peeling. Such skin reaction following radiation may take place after a few weeks.

    Treatment and care for skin reaction would be:

    • Using only recommended unscented creams or lotions after daily treatment

    • Always keep the skin clean and dry using warm water and gentle soap

    • Avoid sun exposure (use a sunscreen with at least SPF 30)

    • Avoid extreme temperatures while showering

    • Avoid after-shave or deodorants, perfumes, cosmetics in the treatment site

    • Shave the treatment area with an electric razor if necessary

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    Possible Side-Effects of Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

    Following radiation therapy for breast cancer, some patients may complain of gastrointestinal disturbances like nausea, vomiting and poor appetite. These side effects should not prevent patients from having normal meal intake. Few modifications of diet can help patients cope with these side effects:

    • Instead of normal three large meals, take several small meals during the day

    • For breakfast, take “instant breakfast” mix or other nutritional shakes which provide essential nutrients

    • Taking foods at room temperature instead of very hot or cold

    • Doctor may prescribe antiemetics to reduce the nausea and vomiting symptoms

    Fatigue following radiotherapy can have various causes, besides the treatment itself, depression, not eating well, pain and low blood counts are all possible causes. Treatment for breast cancer after radiation is holistic and requires support from various medical teams, counselors and care takers. It is important to live a normal life as much as possible even during the course of treatment. This may sound simple but many patients are worrying and experiencing sleep disturbances which could be associated with depression. Such event if persistent would warrant medical advice.

    Apart from this, any fever, chills may suggest infection. Radiation impairs the white blood cell production in bone marrow to fight infection. Thus, patients are recommended to stay awau from crowded places after cancer treatment to reduce the risk of infection.

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    References

    1) Side Effects of Breast Cancer Radiation by Sonja Eva Singletary, MD, Professor of Surgical Oncology, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

    2) Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer by Charlene Laino, Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    3) Early-stage Breast Cancer Treatment: A Patient and Doctor Dialogue. Frequently Asked Questions by The National Women’s Health Information Center.