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Kathleen Settle, MD
Radiation Oncology For Breast Cancer
Chesapeake Potomac Regional Cancer Center
. http://www.chesapeakepotomaccancer.com/

Radiation Oncology For Breast Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society (2007 statistics), roughly 240,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States and 15-20% of these cases will be non-invasive breast cancer (ductal carcinoma in-situ or Stage 0). After the appropriate evaluation, women are generally faced with two surgical options, mastectomy or breast conservation surgery. A mastectomy entails removal of the entire breast. Breast conservation surgery, also known as a lumpectomy, involves removing just the tumor with a margin of healthy breast tissue. The majority of women are stages 0, I, and II at diagnosis and of these patients, 70-80% are potential candidates for treatment with breast-conserving therapy. Women should be counseled that the breast conservation approach would almost always require radiation therapy, regardless of race, ethnicity, or age. Certainly, there are a few select cases when radiation therapy can or should be omitted. However, a patient should be evaluated by a radiation oncologist to determine whether radiation therapy can be omitted in the setting of breast conservation surgery.
The purpose of radiation therapy after breast conserving surgery is to significantly reduce the risk of a recurrence in the breast. Radiation therapy is typically delivered with high energy x-rays directed at the whole breast for roughly six weeks. In select cases, women may be considered for treatment over a three-week or one-week period of time, however these treatment durations are not yet a standard of care in the United States. Side effects are generally well-tolerated and limited to mild fatigue and skin irritation in the form of redness, itchiness, and/or peeling of skin in patches similar to a mild-to-moderate sunburn.
Diagnosing and treating cancer should always involve a multi-disciplinary approach (i.e. involving the input of a surgeon, medical oncologist, and a radiation oncologist). If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer, please ask your primary care physician or surgeon to refer you to a medical oncologist and radiation oncologist, so that you may be armed with all the information you need to make informed decisions regarding your care.

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