Some people with early breast cancer will be recommended radiotherapy as part of their treatment.
Radiotherapy is sometimes referred to as radiation therapy. It involves the use of high energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells that may be left in the breast and/or axilla (armpit) after surgery and reduce the risk of cancer returning.
Not all people with breast cancer will have radiotherapy as part of their treatment.
It is usually recommended for people who have breast-conserving surgery (also called lumpectomy) and sometimes following a mastectomy. See Types of surgery for more details.
If you are having chemotherapy as well as radiotherapy, you will usually have your chemotherapy treatment first.
If radiotherapy is being considered for you, you will be referred to a radiation oncologist.
Before starting your radiotherapy treatment, the radiation oncologist will meet with you to discuss your treatment.
A CT scan will be taken of your chest so that the area to be targeted by the radiotherapy can be determined. Some people will also have radiotherapy to their armpit, neck or chest wall.
Radiotherapy is typically administered every day (except weekends) for three to six weeks. Each treatment takes only a few minutes, although sometimes you may have to wait for a radiotherapy machine to become available.
Some people who meet certain criteria are able to have higher doses of radiation over a shorter period of time. This is called hypofractionated radiotherapy.
If you live in a rural area you may need to go to a major regional centre or city to have radiotherapy. Some people need to spend up to six weeks away from home as a result. If you would like more information on this, we provide information for people who live in rural and remote areas.
Radiotherapy can have a number of side effects. While radiotherapy is painless, after a few weeks you may notice that your skin becomes dry, red and itchy, like sunburn. This may gradually become more noticeable but usually fades away completely between two and four weeks after treatment ends.
For tips on how to care for your skin, refer to our information on taking care of your skin. If you are worried about your skin, you may like to talk to your radiation oncologist about skin care.
Other side effects include:
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