The first line of treatment for most breast cancer patients is one of two types of surgery:
- Lumpectomy—removal of the tumor only
- Mastectomy—removal of the whole breast
Your oncologist and breast surgeon will help you decide what kind of surgery, if any, is best, depending on the stage of your cancer and other factors. Following surgery, radiation therapy is often used to treat any remaining cancer cells that may have been left behind or shed during surgery. Post-surgery radiation of the site where the tumor was removed has been shown to reduce the risk of recurrence significantly*.
For breast cancer, radiation therapy can be delivered as the patient lies in the supine (face-up) or prone (face-down) position. The beams are projected at various angles in order to deliver a maximum dose of radiation to the target while minimizing exposure to the heart and lungs. Treatments are typically five sessions per week over a period of four to six weeks. Each session typically takes from five to 20 minutes. Ask your oncologist what treatment schedule is right for you.
*(Lancet 376 (9758): 2041-2116. 2010)
With modern advances in radiotherapy, your medical team may use a surface breast beacon transponder or gating device to track your breathing patterns. This may enable the clinical team to aim the radiation accurately and precisely to treat the targeted area while minimizing exposure to nearby healthy tissue. When treating the left breast, your medical team takes special care to protect the heart. The tracking devices are for temporary external placement on the skin, to monitor respiratory motion and other patient motion in real-time during radiation therapy. Similar to how a GPS tracking system in a car locates where the car is at all times, the surface breast beacon transponder provides continuous, real-time location and patient motion information during treatment. This enables clinicians to more accurately manage the delivery of radiation to the target.
Radiotherapy for breast cancer and the use of these tracking devices are not appropriate for all breast cancer patients or all types of breast cancers. Serious side effects can occur, including skin irritation, mild to moderate breast swelling, fatigue, breast or chest wall tenderness, swelling to the arm nearest to treatment, reduced blood count, fibrosis and scarring and narrowing of a coronary artery. Talk to your doctor to determine whether radiotherapy and radiotherapy for breast cancer and the use of these tracking devices are right for you.