External Breast Radiation

Overview

Definition

Radiation therapy is a treatment for cancer and other diseases. It uses high-energy particles to damage the genetic code (DNA) in the cancer cells. This makes the cells unable to grow or divide.

There are 2 main types of radiation therapy:

  • External—radiation is delivered by a machine that shoots particles at the cells from outside the body
  • Internal—radioactive materials are placed in the body near the cancer cells (also called implant radiation or brachytherapy)

In certain cases, your doctor may recommend a combination of these. Radiation is often used with other types of treatment, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy (stimulates the immune system to fight infection).

This fact sheet will focus on external radiation therapy.

Possible Complications

External radiation does not cause your body to become radioactive. It can cause side effects, as the radiation damages your own healthy cells as well as the cancer cells. Common side effects of radiation include, but are not limited to:

  • Fatigue
  • Skin changes (redness, irritation)
  • Reduced white blood cell count
  • Hair loss
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Appetite loss

Discuss the specific side effects that you may have with your doctor.

Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Previous radiation therapy
  • A personal history of systemic lupus erythematosus, scleroderma , or dermatomyositis

A woman who is pregnant or could be pregnant should avoid exposure to radiation. It could harm a developing fetus.

SymptomsandDiagnosis

Treatments

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (Ionizing Radiation; Radiotherapy)

RESOURCES

American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org 

National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca 

Cancer Care Ontario http://www.cancercare.on.ca 

References

Radiation. Oncolink, University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center website. Available at: http://www.oncolink.org/treatment/treatment.cfm?c=5. Accessed February 24, 2015.

Radiation therapy for cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/radiation-therapy/radiation-fact-sheet. Accessed February 24, 2015.