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The Cleveland Clinic

Breast Cancer: Radiation Therapy: What to Expect


Radiation therapy is a form of cancer treatment that uses high levels of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing and dividing -- while minimizing damage to healthy cells.

Radiation is delivered to the affected breast and, in some cases, to the lymph nodes under the arm or at the collarbone.

When Is Radiation Therapy Given?

Radiation therapy 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 radiation therapy, this might be given before you start radiation therapy.

Once radiation treatments start, you can expect to receive small daily doses of radiation over a period of several days to several weeks.

What Happens On Treatment Days?

The radiation therapist will escort you into the treatment room. The therapist will help you onto the treatment table and help place you in the correct treatment position. Once the therapist 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 therapist can always see and hear you. If you should have a problem, you can let the therapist know. It is very important that you remain still and relaxed during treatment.

The therapist 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 therapist will help you get off the treatment table.

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