Rhode Island Hospital
Providence, RI 02903
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The Miriam Hospital
164 Summit Avenue
Providence, RI 02906
Radiation therapy treats breast cancer by using high-energy rays to either kill cancer cells or stop them from multiplying, or to shrink tumors. It's important to take good care of yourself for the duration of treatment, so make sure to get enough rest, eat healthy, protect the skin of the treated area and go for regular blood work as prescribed by your doctor.
There are two types of radiation therapy: external and internal. Women can receive one type or both. External radiation therapy (sometimes referred to as "external beam radiation") involves a machine outside the body sending radiation to the cancer. Energy beams are aimed directly at the tumor site to kill cancer cells, while preserving healthy tissue.
Internal radiation therapy delivers radioactive material into or near the cancer site via needles, wires or catheters placed in the breast. This type of radiation is also known as brachytherapy.
Radiation therapy is used most commonly:
After a lumpectomy or mastectomy to reduce the risk of cancer recurring in the breast. It may be used alone, or in combination with chemotherapy and/or hormone therapy.
As the primary treatment for breast cancer in cases where the surgeon does not believe the tumor can be safely removed, if a woman's health prevents surgery, or if a woman chooses not to have surgery.
To treat breast cancer that has metastasized.
At the beginning of your treatment, a radiation therapist will map the treatment area by marking your skin with temporary, freckle-like tattoos. Please do not try to wash them off or retouch them. Your radiation therapist will remark the area as needed.
Once the marks are made and the equipment programmed, you will be escorted into the treatment room and positioned on a table under the radiation machine. Your radiation therapist will then leave the room and start treatment; however, you will be under observation and can communicate your therapist via intercom.
Radiation therapy is painless; the treatment machine doesn't touch you, and it lasts only a few minutes. Try to remain as calm as possible to avoid the need for repositioning.
In this type of radiation treatment, radioactive material is sealed in a metal seed, wire, needle or tube (called an implant), and placed in or near the cancer site. The implant is placed into your body typically at the time of surgery, or at another time using image guidance. Often a metal or plastic tube is used as an applicator and is held in place with stitches.
The Comprehensive Cancer Center offers patients the Axxent electronic brachytherapy system. The Axxent system uses a miniaturized linear accelerator to deliver a radiation-emitting seed the size of a grain of rice directly to the tumor site in order to help reduce recurrence of the disease. Used to treat early stage breast cancer, electronic brachytherapy offers women much shorter treatment time with less exposure to radiation, fewer side effects, and better outcomes.
A typical course of radiation therapy consists of five treatment sessions a week, for five to eight weeks. Your doctor will tailor your treatment according to the size and location of your cancer, its type, your general health and other treatments you are receiving. In internal radiation therapy, an implant can stay in your body for several days or be removed after only a few minutes, depending on the dose of radiation.
Because of the nature of cancer and radiation therapy, it's difficult to assess the effects of treatment immediately. However, after your sessions are complete, you will have follow-up exams and diagnostic tests as needed to evaluate your progress.