Radiation therapy is a common treatment for breast cancer that uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells. While it is an effective treatment option, it is important for patients to understand the potential long-term effects of radiation therapy.
This article by Dr. Garvit Chitkara, a breast cancer surgeon in Mumbai will explore the long-term effects of radiation therapy for breast cancer and what you need to know.
Breast cancer is a devastating diagnosis that affects women worldwide. For those facing the disease, radiation therapy is often a necessary part of the treatment plan. While radiation therapy can be a powerful tool for destroying cancer cells, people may worry about its long-term effects.
It is important to understand what radiation therapy is and the potential side effects that can occur. With the right information, people can make informed decisions about their care.
What is Radiation therapy for breast cancer?
Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses high-energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. It is often used in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy to treat breast cancer.
During radiation therapy, a machine directs the beam at the affected area of the body. The treatment is usually given on an outpatient basis, and most patients receive it 5 days a week for several weeks.
Radiation therapy is usually well tolerated, but some patients may experience side effects such as skin irritation, fatigue, and swelling. These side effects are usually temporary and resolve once treatment is completed.
Radiation therapy is an effective treatment option for breast cancer and can help to reduce the risk of the cancer returning. It is important for patients to discuss the potential benefits and risks of radiation therapy with their healthcare team before starting treatment.
Benefits of Radiation Therapy for breast cancer
Radiation therapy is a treatment for breast cancer that can offer a number of benefits. Some of the potential benefits of radiation therapy for breast cancer include:
- It can kill cancer cells: Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells and reduce the risk of the cancer returning.
- It can shrink tumors: In some cases, radiation therapy can shrink tumors and alleviate symptoms caused by the tumor, such as pain or difficulty breathing.
- It can be used in combination with other treatments: Radiation therapy can be used in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy to maximize the chances of successful treatment.
- It has a high success rate: Radiation therapy is an effective treatment option for breast cancer and has a high success rate.
- It is convenient: Most radiation therapy treatments are given on an outpatient basis, meaning patients do not need to stay in the hospital overnight.
It is important for patients to discuss the potential benefits of radiation therapy with the oncologist in order to make informed decisions about their treatment.
Long-Term Effects of Radiation Therapy for breast cancer
While radiation therapy is an effective treatment option for breast cancer, it can also have potential long-term effects. These effects may include:
- Breast fibrosis: Breast fibrosis is a condition that occurs when scar tissue forms in the breast tissue. This can cause the breast to feel hard or lumpy and can also lead to changes in the shape of the breast.
Symptoms of breast fibrosis may include a feeling of hardness or lumpiness in the breast, changes in the shape of the breast, and pain or discomfort. In some cases, breast fibrosis can also lead to difficulty breastfeeding or problems with prosthetic breasts.
Treatment for breast fibrosis may include medications to reduce inflammation and discomfort, physical therapy to improve flexibility and range of motion, and massage to improve circulation and reduce scar tissue. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove scar tissue or reconstruct the breast.
- Lymphedema: Lymphedema is a condition in which fluid builds up and causes swelling in the arm or hand on the side of the body where the breast cancer was treated. This can occur if the lymph nodes in the armpit are removed or damaged during radiation therapy.
Symptoms of lymphedema may include swelling in the arm or hand, a feeling of heaviness or fullness in the affected limb, and difficulty moving the limb. In severe cases, lymphedema can also cause pain, skin irritation, and infection.
Lymphedema is a chronic condition that cannot be cured, but it can be managed with treatment. Treatment options for lymphedema may include manual lymphatic drainage (a type of massage), compression garments, exercises to improve circulation and flexibility, and self-care techniques to reduce the risk of infection.
- Increased risk of secondary cancers: Radiation therapy may increase the risk of developing secondary cancers, such as leukemia or lung cancer. However, the risk of developing a secondary cancer is low, and the benefits of radiation therapy in treating breast cancer often outweigh the risks.
It’s important for breast cancer survivors to pay attention to their health and report any new symptoms to their doctor.
Dr. Garvit Chitkara says, “Early detection of a secondary cancer is often key to successful treatment. Some cancer survivors may also benefit from lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, to reduce the risk of a secondary cancer”.
Overall, radiation therapy is an effective treatment option for breast cancer and has helped many patients achieve remission and improved quality of life. While it is important to be aware of the potential long-term effects, the benefits of radiation therapy often outweigh the risks.