Aim of radiotherapy
The aim of radiotherapy is to destroy breast cancer cells that may have remained after breast surgery. Radiotherapy uses radiation to kill or damage cancer cells and stop them from growing and multiplying.
Although radiation can also damage normal cells, these cells are better able to self-repair. This is one reason why radiotherapy is given in small doses over several weeks. The radiotherapy damage to the breast cancer cells accumulates with each treatment and kills the cancer cells, while healthy cells recover between each treatment and are maintained.
After a wide local excision (WLE) radiotherapy is usually recommended. After mastectomy, radiotherapy may also be recommended along with other treatments like chemotherapy and endocrine (hormonal treatments). Your treatment plan will depend on your individual diagnosis and circumstances.
Understanding potential side effects
Radiotherapy is an effective treatment for many cancer types. All treatments have some side effects and these vary from person to person. However side effects for radiotherapy for breast cancer are fairly predictable.
Some people can find the thought of having radiotherapy frightening. Talking over your concerns about side effects with your radiation oncologist, breast care nurse or other member of your treating team will help you understand radiotherapy and how to manage side effects if they arise. There are resources in this Navigator topic to help you understand how radiotherapy works, potential side effects and strategies to help you manage.
Seeking advice and support
The time of diagnosis of breast cancer can feel overwhelming. You may be given a lot of information about your treatment options which may be difficult to process all at once. To help you:
- It’s okay to take time to make sense of the information you have been given and talk to your breast care nurse or other health professional about what it all means.
- You might find it helpful to talk to your family and friends about your treatment options.
- Talking with others who have been through the experience of breast cancer and radiotherapy can be helpful. In this Navigator topic there are resources listed (under Personal Stories) for linking in to peer support to share your concerns, fears and aspirations for treatment.
- There are resources available in Navigator topic on Decision making, and other topics that may be of assistance.
The purpose of this navigator is to guide you to information about radiotherapy for early breast cancer that will help inform your decision-making. It does not constitute an endorsement of the information contained in the resources. This information is not meant to be a replacement for consultations with and recommendations from your treating team, but rather to provide a starting point to information seeking. If you are unsure about anything, you should always consult your health professional team.