This page has been written by : Dr. Rohit Malde, Consultant Radiation Oncologist, BNH - HCG Hospital, Mumbai
What is Radiotherapy and how does it work?
Radiotherapy is a form of anti-cancer treatment which uses high energy X-rays, targeted at the site of the cancer so as to destroy it and reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.
A beam of X-rays will affect all cells in its path as it travels through the body to reach the cancer target, and this includes normal cells. Radiation causes damage to the building blocks of the cells’ genetic structure: the DNA. Whilst normal cells are capable of repairing themselves after DNA damage, cancer cells are much less capable of doing so and therefore are usually killed by Radiotherapy. As with any treatment, there will be a risk of some degree of side-effects which is related to the site of treatment and the dose prescribed by your doctor.
Why does one need Radiotherapy to the Breast / Chest Wall?
Radiotherapy is given to reduce the risk of your breast cancer returning after surgery. It is usually given to:
To the whole chest wall bed/Breast and/or
To the lymph gland areas, i.e. lower neck/collar bone area and sometimes the armpit (Axilla). Whether or not you need lymph gland Radiotherapy depends on the results of the lymph gland surgery (Axillary clearance)
Some patients may need a Booster dose (Patient with an intact breast, implying those who have undergone a Breast Conserving Surgery).
Depending on the results of the surgery, some patients require chemotherapy in addition to Radiotherapy. Radiotherapy is usually given afte the final chemotherapy treatment. Some chemotherapy drugs, e.g.Epirubicin, Docetaxel (Taxotere) and Paclitaxel (Taxol), may increase the side effects of radiotherapy. A gap of approximately 3-4 weeks is given between finishing this chemotherapy and starting radiotherapy for your body to recover from the ill-effects of chemotherapy.
Radiotherapy Planning Scan
Patients are usually given a Planning CT scan appointment. The actual radiation treatment is usually started 3-5 days later. The arm of the affected side is supported throughout; a patient has to remain in this position for about 15-30 mins. The total time for a treatment appointment is approximately 15-20 minutes - with the treatment machine being ‘on’ for just a few minutes. The treatment goes on for 3-5 weeks after discussing with your doctor.