By Dr Nicola Lowrey
Radiation Oncologist with Genesis Care
Radiotherapy kills cancer cells by using targeted high energy x-ray beams. It is a localised treatment tailored to each individual’s circumstances and chest shape.
In breast cancer, radiotherapy is generally recommended for:
Women who have had breast-conserving surgery (a lumpectomy). Radiotherapy eliminates leftover cancer cells, lowering the risk of cancer recurrence in the breast.
Some women who have had a mastectomy and have an increased risk of breast cancer recurring in the chest area. This includes breast cancer of larger than eg 5cm or when the surgical margins are involved.
When underarm (axillary) lymph nodes are found to contain cancer cells and the risk of cancer coming back in other lymph nodes is considered high.
Breast cancer radiotherapy often starts 4-6 weeks after surgery, but if a woman needs chemotherapy, radiotherapy starts a few weeks after completion of chemotherapy. It is a painless treatment that takes half an hour each weekday. Depending on your age and cancer pathology, the number of weeks of treatment can range from three up to six.
The most common side effects are fatigue, breast swelling, discomfort in the breast or chest wall, redness and dryness of the skin in the treatment area, similar to sunburn. All of these are short term only and the skin sunburn usually disappears 4-6 weeks after radiotherapy finishes. Cancer cells are very susceptible to the damage that radiotherapy causes them, while normal cells such as the skin cells, repair and regenerate.
Radiotherapy is also used for many women with metastatic disease, when a secondary tumour in the body is causing problems such as pain, or if the tumour needs to be brought under control.
Radiotherapy is now available in multiple sites around Queensland, in metropolitan and regional areas, both publicly and privately. Care is provided by your Radiation Oncologist and their team.
Dr Nicola Lowrey is a Radiation Oncologist with Genesis Care, consulting at the Wesley Hospital, Chermside Medical Complex, St Vincent’s Private Hospital Northside and Taringa’s Westside Private Hospital. She specialises in the management of breast, gynaecological and neurological malignancies. She is passionate about good communication and understanding each individual’s cancer experience.