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Be empowered.

The first important thing to understand about breast cancer: you are not alone, as you will see in the highlighted facts below. Today, options for treating breast cancer, including radiation therapy, continue to advance. And throughout your cancer journey—from screening and diagnosis to treatment and survivorship—your medical care team is with you every step of the way.

Worldwide, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women.

About one in six women in the world will be diagnosed with breast cancer over the course of their lifetime.

While it is most often found in women, men can get breast cancer, too.

Breast cancer

Your treatment plan

For breast cancer, many patients are treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and/or radiation therapy. Your treatment plan may include any of these common treatments, but not all.

The first line of treatment for most breast cancer patients is one of two types of surgery: lumpectomy—removal of the tumor only; or mastectomy—removal of the whole breast. Your physicians will help you decide what kind of surgery, if any, is best for you.

Following surgery, radiation therapy is often used to treat any remaining cancer cells that remain after surgery, thus reducing the risk of cancer recurrence.

Breast cancer

Radiation therapy treatment techniques

There are different types of radiation therapy techniques that may be useful for breast cancer treatment, including:

Breast cancer

Possible side effects

Side effects are cumulative, which means they can develop over several weeks as the radiation accumulates in the tumor. You can ask your radiation oncologist what you might expect from your specific treatment. These are some common side effects of breast cancer radiation therapy:

  • Skin irritation similar to sunburn
  • Mild to moderate breast swelling
  • Mild fatigue
  • Mild tenderness in the breast or chest wall
  • Internal scarring of a small part of the lung just under the breast
  • Swelling of the arm closest to the area being treated, which may result in a reduced range of motion
  • Lymphedema (swelling caused by an accumulation of lymphatic fluid)
  • Reduced blood count
  • Fibrosis, or thickening/scarring of a small spot of tissue inside the breast

Breast cancer

Your EBRT treatment journey

When it comes to preparing for your breast cancer treatment, knowledge is power. That includes knowing what to expect during your treatment journey so you can move forward one informed and empowered step at a time. Here is a brief outline of what you can expect during treatment. The details of some steps may differ, depending on your particular case.

Step 1: Consultation

First, you'll meet with your radiation oncologist to discuss what type of radiation treatment options are recommended for your specific case, and make a decision together about your treatment.

Step 2: Simulation

As part of your treatment planning, the exact area of the tumor must first be determined. This is usually done using a CT scan, short for computed tomography, providing a detailed 3-D image of the treatment area using x-rays. Sometimes temporary skin marks or even tiny tattoos (about the size of a freckle) are made on your body to help the radiation therapist position you correctly each day for treatment.

Step 3: Treatment planning

After simulation is complete, your radiation oncologist will develop your personalized treatment plan, taking into account the location and type of cancer you have, your medical history, lab tests, and other factors—all to determine your best course of treatment. Treatment sessions may occur up to five times per week over a period of four to six weeks. Each session typically takes 5 to 20 minutes.

Step 4: Positioning for treatment

On your treatment days, your radiation therapist will position you on the radiation machine’s treatment couch. The couch will be adjusted so the radiation laser targets the small mark that was put on your skin during your simulation, ensuring you are properly aligned for treatment.

Step 5: Start of treatment

The radiation is delivered by a machine called a linear accelerator, or linac. Most linacs have a gantry, which will move around you to deliver the radiation. You won’t see, hear, feel or smell the beam. Treatment sessions usually take about 15 minutes. Your first treatment session may be a little longer.

Step 6: Post-treatment and follow-up care

Every patient is different, but most patients can continue daily activities during treatment, despite side effects such as fatigue. After your final treatment, your radiation oncologist will schedule periodic follow-up appointments to monitor your progress and the results of your treatment.

Breast cancer

Patient stories

Breast cancer

Helpful resources for breast cancer

Patient guide

Patient guide

Download the breast cancer patient guide for more information about what to expect during treatment.

Questions to ask

Some important things you may want to find out from your doctor before undergoing treatment for breast cancer.