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Learning About External Beam Radiation Therapy for Early-Stage Breast Cancer

What is external beam radiation therapy for early-stage breast cancer?

External beam radiation therapy uses doses of radiation to kill cancer cells. A beam of radiation is aimed at the tumour from outside the body. This treatment is given to most people with early-stage breast cancer who choose breast-conserving surgery such as lumpectomy.

What is the schedule?

Radiation therapy for early-stage breast cancer can be given in two different schedules.

  • Radiation therapy may be given 5 days a week. Treatment takes 5 to 6 weeks.
  • Hypofractionated radiation therapy is given in slightly higher doses 5 days a week. Treatment takes about 3 to 4 weeks.
  • Ultra-hypofractionated radiation therapy or accelerated partial breast irradiation is given in higher doses 5 days a week. Treatment takes about 1-2 weeks.

The doctor will look at the stage of the tumour and other things. This is to help decide which course may be right for you. Ask your doctor to go over both of these options with you.

Who can have it?

Radiation therapy is given to most people with early-stage breast cancer who choose breast-conserving surgery such as lumpectomy. It may also be given after a mastectomy if there's cancer in the lymph nodes.

If you've had breast-conserving surgery, you may choose to get hypofractionated radiation. This is a shorter course of treatment. But the doses of radiation are higher.

How well does it work?

Studies have shown that standard and hypofractionated treatment work equally well. Both can keep cancer from coming back in women who have early-stage breast cancer.

What are the side effects?

Some short-term side effects of this treatment for breast cancer are common. They include fatigue, skin changes in the treated area, and swelling in the treated breast. Most will go away within a few weeks after treatment. Your radiation oncologist will provide you with detailed information when you have your consult appointment.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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