Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer: What to Expect and How It Works

Breast cancer is a severe and life-threatening illness that affects millions of women worldwide. While chemotherapy and surgery are regarded as standard treatment options for breast cancer, radiation therapy has proven to be effective in reducing the tumor’s size and minimizing the risk of cancer recurrence.

Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy rays or particles (such as X-rays or electrons) to destroy or damage cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be administered externally (external beam radiation therapy) or internally (brachytherapy) using implants or radioactive substances.

What to Expect During Radiation Therapy

Before commencing radiation therapy, a patient’s breast will undergo imaging to determine the exact location and size of the tumor. This will guide the radiation oncologist in designing a personalized treatment plan.

Once the treatment plan is established, the radiation therapy starts. External beam radiation therapy is usually given five times a week over a duration of four to six weeks. These sessions last about 30 minutes each, and the patient will experience no pain or discomfort during the procedure.

During radiation therapy, patients wear comfortable clothing and lie on a table while a machine positions the radiation beams in the right location. The radiation oncology team will work with the patient to ensure that they are comfortable and well-positioned for the treatment.

Side effects of Radiation Therapy

One of the most commonly reported side effects of radiation therapy for breast cancer is skin irritation, redness, and itchiness around the treated area. Patients may also experience fatigue or tiredness, especially in the later stages of treatment. The breast tissue can become swollen, leading to breast tenderness and discomfort.

Less common side effects of radiation therapy include:

– Thinning of the skin or a temporary darkening of the skin color
– Lymphedema, which is swelling in the arms, chest, or breast
– Difficulty swallowing or breathing, which is rare but still possible

Your radiation oncology team will work closely with you to manage any side effects that arise during treatment.


Radiation therapy is a highly effective treatment option for breast cancer that works by damaging cancer cells and shrinking tumor size. Most patients experience skin irritation, fatigue, and breast tenderness as side effects of radiation therapy. However, new technology is making radiation therapy for breast cancer more precise and customized, reducing the risk of side effects even further. With the right medical team and careful monitoring, breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy can experience excellent results with minimal discomfort.

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