Radiation therapy is a treatment for cancer that uses high-energy X-rays. A machine directs the rays of energy to the area of cancer, with a goal to kill or shrink cancer cells.
Radiation is most often used along with other breast cancer treatments, like surgery or chemotherapy. Your doctor may advise radiation if:
- You have an early stage breast cancer. This is called adjuvant treatment. Radiation is often used after breast-conserving surgery. It is sometimes used after mastectomy. The goal is to kill cancer cells that cannot be seen, but may have been left behind after surgery, which lowers the chance the cancer will come back.
- You have metastatic breast cancer. This means the cancer has spread. The goal of radiation in this case is mainly to ease symptoms of the cancer. This is sometimes called palliative treatment.
- External radiation. This is also known as external beam therapy (EBRT). It is the most common type used to treat breast cancer. This treatment sends high levels of radiation directly to the cancer cells. Since radiation is used to kill cancer cells and to shrink tumors, special shields may be used to protect the tissue surrounding the area being treated.
- Internal radiation. This is also known as brachytherapy or implant radiation. This type of radiation treatment is given inside the body in the area of the cancer. It gives a higher dose of radiation to a small area for a shorter time. The radiation source may be put directly into the area of the breast tumor, or it may be put in through a small tube placed near the tumor.