Radiation therapy is one of the most common procedures undertaken for all kinds of cancer treatment. For breast cancer, radiation therapy is given after a lumpectomy or mastectomy. This is the standard treatment procedure for all stages of breast cancer.
Radiation treatment helps in removing any cancer cells that may have been left behind in the site after surgical elimination of the tumour cells.
How Radiation Therapy Works
Radiation therapy helps in the destruction of cancer cells by damaging the genetic composition of the tumour cells, preventing them from multiplying uncontrollably to other areas of the body. However, radiation treatment has its limitations. It can be administered only in the site of tumour formation and not throughout the body.
For external beam radiation, high energy beams are directed at the area of cancer formation in the breast for destroying the cancer cells. Radiation can also be given internally by inserting capsule of radioactive material into the tumour which will arrest the growth of cancer and prevent multiplication. Treatment is normally given for a period of half an hour and 5 to 7 days a week.
Side Effects of Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer
Several side effects are reported after radiation treatment. However, the effects are much less severe when compared to a chemotherapy course and hence easy to tolerate as well.
Effects on Skin
Burn marks on the skin is one of the most common side effects of radiation. Skin becomes reddish and might get irritated and can itch in certain cases. The irritation is mostly seen in the armpit and around the folds of your breast. Skin can become dry, sore and there would be skin peeling and blister formations due to the heat of radiation. The irritation can take up to a year to heal. During this time, it is important to tend to the wounds to prevent infection.
Pain in the Breast
Radiation treatment along with surgical removal of lumps can cause a lot of discomfort and pain in the breast region. The nerves could be irritated and this will lead to sudden shooting pain in the area. The condition can be controlled through cold and hot packs and through stress relieving techniques like meditation.
Onset of Fatigue
Fatigue is again a most common side effect of radiation treatment with as many as 9 out of 10 women complaining of extreme fatigue. Ensure that you get enough rest and care during this time for the body to recuperate.
Many women experience mild breathing difficulty and dry cough after radiation treatment. If the breathing difficulty is very severe and is accompanied by symptoms such as swelling, redness and discomfort in the area of radiation administration along with a warm feeling that is concentrated in the leg, it would mean that you are suffering from pulmonary embolism which happens when a blood clot reaches the lung.
This is a very serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Other side effects include heart palpitations and even heart attacks. Therefore, all symptoms have to be immediately reported to the doctor without fail.