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What to Expect During Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer: A Comprehensive Guide

Radiation therapy is a common treatment for breast cancer that aims to target and destroy cancer cells using high-energy rays. While the treatment can be effective, it's natural to have questions and concerns about what to expect. This guide aims to address those concerns and provide you and your caregivers with helpful resources.

Why Radiation Therapy?

Radiation therapy is typically employed after surgery to remove a tumor or after chemotherapy to shrink it. It's especially useful for eliminating any remaining cancer cells and reducing the risk of recurrence. Learn more about its role in breast cancer treatment from the American Cancer Society

Types of Radiation Therapy

  1. External Beam Radiation: The most common type, where radiation is delivered from outside the body.
  2. Internal Radiation (Brachytherapy): A radioactive source is placed inside the body, near the cancer cells.

For detailed explanations of the types, consult Cancer.Net.


The first step is a planning session with your radiation oncologist to discuss the type of radiation, duration, and schedule. 


Each session lasts only a few minutes, but the setup may take longer. Usually, treatments are given five days a week for several weeks.


After the therapy, you'll have periodic check-ups to assess the effectiveness and manage any side effects.

Potential Side Effects

  1. Skin Irritation and Burns: Akin to sunburn, this is the most common side effect.
  2. Fatigue: Particularly towards the end of the treatment cycle.
  3. Breast Changes: Size and texture may change temporarily or permanently.

Visit the National Cancer Institute for a more extensive list of side effects.

Skin Care

- Use mild soaps and avoid tight clothing.

- Consult DermNet NZ for more tips.

- La Roche Posay has a guide on how to care for your skin during cancer. They make some great products specifically designed to help you heal. 


- Opt for a well-balanced diet and stay hydrated.

- For guidelines, see Cancer Research UK.

Emotional Well-being

- Consider counseling or joining a support group. 

- Explore resources on CancerCare.

Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Team

  1. What type of radiation therapy is best for me?
  2. How can I manage side effects?
  3. Are there any long-term risks?

Prepare for your appointments with this list of questions from

Radiation therapy is a key treatment in the fight against breast cancer. Being well-informed can alleviate some of the stress associated with this challenging journey. Always consult with your healthcare team for tailored advice, and use the above resources to better understand what to expect during radiation therapy for breast cancer.

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