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7 Key Points About Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

Radiation oncologist Priti Patel, MD, explains that in counseling breast cancer patients about radiotherapy, the main points that she shares include:

1. Radiation therapy for breast cancer uses X-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy typically is administered after lumpectomy or mastectomy to eradicate any microscopic cancerous cells that may remain following surgery.

2. Radiotherapy is a painless procedure, although patients may experience skin redness and breast tenderness and other side effects following treatment.

3. People are not “radioactive” after receiving radiation therapy for breast cancer, and it is safe for them to have contact with their partner, children, or others.

4. Technological advances enable radiation therapy to be delivered with an extremely high degree of precision, greatly limiting the amount of radiation absorbed by healthy tissues adjacent to tumors or cancer cells and so limiting side effects.

5. Not all patients experience side effects, and the intensity of any side effect can vary considerably from one patient to another. Side effects may develop immediately after treatment or long afterwards.

6. There are proven, practical strategies for minimizing the impact of most side effects that do occur.

7. In considering the risk of adverse effects from radiation therapy, it is important to remember that the treatment is prescribed to reduce another risk – that of cancer recurring and possibly spreading throughout the body.

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