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Radiotherapy for breast cancer

Radiotherapy is a treatment option for breast cancer, using a controlled dose of radiation targeted to kill cancer cells.

Radiotherapy usually begins after breast cancer surgery and chemotherapy.

When is radiotherapy given?

Radiotherapy is usually given after a lumpectomy and sometimes after a mastectomy to reduce your risk of local recurrence of cancer in that breast. The treatments generally start several weeks after the surgery so the area has some time to heal. If your doctor recommends chemotherapy along with radiotherapy, this might be given before you start radiotherapy.

Once radiotherapy treatments start, you can expect to receive small daily doses of radiation five days a week over a period of three to six weeks.

What happens on treatment days?

The radiographer will escort you into the treatment room, help you on to the treatment table and help place you in the correct treatment position. Once the radiographer is sure you are positioned correctly, he or she will leave the room and start the radiation treatment.

You will be under constant observation during the treatment. Cameras and an intercom are in the treatment room, so the radiographer can always see and hear you. If you should have a problem, you can let the radiographer know. It is very important that you remain still and relaxed during treatment.

The radiographer will be in and out of the room to reposition the machine and change your position. The treatment machine will not touch you and you will feel nothing during the treatment. Once your treatment is complete, the radiographer will help you get off the treatment table.

How will the radiographer know I am in the correct position?

The radiographer will take a ‘port film’, also known as an X-ray, on the first day of treatment and approximately every week thereafter. Port films verify that you are being accurately positioned during your treatments.

Port films do not provide diagnostic information, so radiographers cannot learn about your progress from these films. However port films are important to help the radiographers maintain precision in your treatment.

Why are there marks on my skin?

Small marks resembling freckles may be tattooed on to your skin along the treatment area by the radiographer. These marks provide a permanent outline of your treatment area. Do not try to wash these marks off or retouch them if they fade. The radiographer will remark the treatment area when necessary.

Will my diet make a difference on the effect of my treatment?

Yes. Good nutrition is an important part of recovering from the side effects of radiotherapy. When you are eating well, you have the energy to do the activities you want to do, and your body is able to heal and fight infection. Most importantly, good nutrition can give you a sense of wellbeing. Since eating when you don't feel well can be difficult, a dietitian can help you find ways to get the nutrients you need during your radiotherapy.

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