Breast Cancer and Radiation therapy

By Dr. Charu Garg in Cancer Care / Oncology

Oct 26 , 2021 | 2 min read

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Indian women. One women gets diagnosed with breast cancer every 4 minutes in India and 1 in 28 women are expected to develop breast cancer during their lifetime.

It is curable when diagnosed in early stages but unfortunately because of lack of awareness and poor early screening it is diagnosed in higher stages in more than 50% of women.

Women can self diagnose their condition and should know that for any lump in breast medical help should be sought. It is known that 60 to 80% of breast lumps will not be cancerous and only 5 to 10% of breast cancer are hereditary. Awareness, breast self examination, clinical breast examination by doctor and mammography is the key to early diagnosis.

The treatment landscape has progressed immensely in breast cancer. With the advent of newer radiotherapy techniques, targetted therapy, immunotherapy and surgical advancement, breast cancer patients are treatable at all stages though “the sooner, the better “still holds good.

A breast cancer patient does not necessarily have to get the whole breast removed to cure cancer. Wide excision of the tumor followed by radiotherapy gives equally good results as when the whole breast is removed (mastectomy). There is a lot of apprehension about radiotherapy in general. Let me tell you a bit about it. Radiotherapy is basically using high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. It is painless and non invasive. It will have side –effects only in the area where it is given and no where else in the body. Once you are out of the treatment room there is no radioactivity in the body and the patient can safely be around the family members (including children and pregnant females).

Remember, as while driving your safety depends upon the driver, similarly the modern machines are important, but more than that,it is the person behind the machines.

Radiation therapy in breast cancer is generally given after surgery. Depending upon the extent of cancer, the treatment area may include whole breast (after lumpectomy) or in very early stages partial breast (tumor bed) only, the armpit area or lower neck. Radiation therapy is most effective when given continuously on schedule. In the past, it was given every day, 5 day a week for 5 to 7 weeks. Now in most of the patients the same dose can be given in 3 to 4 weeks, which is more convenient. In partial breast, the treatment can be completed in 1 to 3 weeks also. Today we have techniques to shape the radiotherapy beams which results in proper coverage of the target area and at the same time avoids radiation therapy to normal organs. For left sided breast cancers there are specialized techniques to reduce dose to the heart, it is a highly skilled treatment which requires state of the art facilities. There is also an option of internal radiation therapy known as brachytherapy for very early stage breast cancer patients, where the treatment gets over in 5 days.

As one shoe doesn’t fits all, similarly your radiation oncologist will talk to you about what is best suited for you in terms of extent and duration of the treatment.

Remember cancer is curable when detected early. Do not hesitate to talk about any changes in your breast.