It is targeted, concentrated and focused way to kill and destroy cancer cells. Radiotherapy also referred to as radiation therapy is quite an effective treatment for breast cancer. It is primarily aimed at destroying cancer cells which are left in the healthy tissue post any surgical intervention. There has been a proven 70% reduction in cancer recurrence risk in post operative patients for breast cancer. It is quite an effective method with easy tolerance levels and side effects limited to the tissue exposed.
As the treatment involves exposure to radiation, the treatment is done under the care of a radiation oncologist.
In radiation therapy a special type beam to destroy and kill cancer cells, this beam is high in energy. The idea is to damage the breast cancer cell’s DNA, DNA is inherent to the growth of the cell. These radiation beams are invisible to the naked human eye.
With consistent exposure to the radiation, breast cancer cells in the path of the beam are damaged. But normal cells as well as cancer cells get destroyed in the process. Though as cancer show rigorous activity of growing and multiplying they are targeted more and destroyed in larger numbers as compared to normal cells. Also due to their irregular and abnormal growth, cancer cells are less organized as compared healthy tissue of the body, making it harder for them to repair the damage caused by radiation. Consequently, while the cancer cells are damaged and destroyed, the lesser number of healthy cells damaged due to radiation, repair themselves with their intact DNA and survive the treatment.
Radiation can be applied to the tissue from outside the body and also from inside the body. Tissue like the breast tissue, lymph nodes are other affected parts of the body may be exposed to radiation for cancer treatment.
Externally, a machine - linear accelerator is used to throw beams and deliver radiation from outside the body, internally pellets, or seeds, are used to give off radiation beams from inside the body.
Sometimes radiation is given to the patient in combination with hyperthermia.
HYPERTHERMIA is the process of heating the cancer cells with the use of n energy source like ultrasound and microwave. Heated cells are more sensitive to radiation and destroyed easily by radiation. Hyperthermia is also referred to as thermal therapy or thermotherapy. Radiation follows hyperthermia usually after an hour of the procedure.
Radiation is necessary as it destroys the cells left over from surgery for breast cancer. These cancer cells may develop into a full blown cancer later with time. Thus radiation reduces the recurrence risk significantly. Individual cells may be missed out during surgery and may show up as lump in mammaogram in time. It has been seen that inpatient with lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy, the survival rates are much better than in patients who did not get radiation therapy post surgery.