Dealing with a Cancer Diagnosis

FAQs About Post-Surgery Radiation Treatment for Breast Cancer

by For Content

For most patients, the idea of having surgery to remove breast cancer tumors is scary in and of itself. But learning that you will need radiation therapy after surgery can be even more fear-inducing. Most people do not know a lot about radiation treatment, other than that it can cause side effects, and as such, they tend to approach this treatment with quite a bit of apprehension — and with a lot of questions. Hopefully, you will find some, if not all, of those questions answered below.

If surgery removes your breast cancer, why do you also need radiation?

People often assume that cancer is either treated with surgery or radiation, so hearing that you need both may be a bit confusing. This does not mean the surgery isn't effective. Rather, surgery is intended to remove the majority of the breast cancer tissue, but it may not be able to remove it all. There could be some cancerous cells left behind, and radiation will kill those cells, which will help ensure your breast cancer does not come back and does not spread to other tissues.

What side effects will radiation cause?

Many people are afraid of radiation because they know it can cause side effects. However, the side effects do not tend to be as terrible as you might imagine. Most people experience fatigue and perhaps some flu-like symptoms for a day or two after treatment. Extreme nausea and hair loss you may be worried about are more likely to be side effects of chemotherapy, a different type of cancer treatment.

How is radiation delivered for breast cancer treatment?

Radiation is not delivered via an IV or pill when used to treat breast cancer. Rather, external beam radiation is the standard these days. Your doctor will use a special device to deliver radioactive waves directly into your breast tissue, and possibly also into your lymph nodes if they are affected by cancer. You'll typically need treatment once a day for a couple of weeks in a row. However, the treatment period can vary widely. Your doctor can tell you exactly how long you'll need to be in radiation treatment post-surgery.

After having surgery to remove your breast cancer, you may need a course of cancer radiation treatment to get rid of any lingering cancer cells. This is not as scary as you might think, and if your doctor is recommending it, then it truly is important for your recovery.