Breast radiotherapy – FAQS
Post-operative radiotherapy is given to reduce the risk of breast cancer cells recurring in the breast, chest wall or lymph node regions.
Most patients require post-operative radiotherapy to the remaining breast tissue following breast-conserving surgery (removal of the breast cancer and an area of normal tissue around it, also known as a ‘lumpectomy’).
Some patients who have had breast conserving surgery may be at higher risk of the cancer returning in the breast, for example:
- Younger patients with larger tumours
- Patients where only a narrow rim of normal tissue was taken around the cancer (also known as ‘close margins’)
- Patients who required pre-operative chemotherapy.
These patients require an extra ‘boost’ dose to the area where the original tumour developed.
Following a mastectomy (removal of the whole breast) radiotherapy to the scar and chest area may be considered if the tumour:
- Was large
- Was deep in the breast and close to the chest wall
- Had spread to some or all of the lymph nodes.
Sometimes the lymph nodes under the arm and / or in the lower neck might need radiotherapy, depending on the type of surgery and how many lymph nodes contained cancer cells.
If you also require chemotherapy, this is given first; the radiotherapy usually starts about one month after the chemotherapy is complete.
It’s important that you’ve regained your arm movement after surgery and can comfortably raise your arms above your head before treatment planning starts. Exercises and physiotherapy can help; talk to your breast care nurse if you need further information.
Patients who need a ‘boost’ dose usually require an additional one week (5 extra days) of treatment.
Patients receive a short breathing training session before their radiotherapy planning CT scan and breathe through a mouth piece (like a snorkel) during the treatment.
All left breast cancer patients treated at GenesisCare are offered DIBH.
A full description and patient information film is available here.
Practical tips for skincare during and after breast radiotherapy
In addition to the general skincare advice given patients often find it helpful to:
- Wear a soft cotton bra or vest
- Some patients find it more comfortable to go without a bra
- Avoid underwired bras or tight clothes until the skin is healed.
Skin reactions usually heal within three or four weeks of completing radiotherapy.