Radiation therapy stops cancer cells from dividing and growing, thus slowing or stopping tumor growth. In many cases, radiation therapy is capable of killing all of the cancer cells.
Conformal Radiation Therapy
Modern radiation therapy is designed with 3-dimensional virtual reality computer programs. The imaging technology used by radiation oncologists shape the radiation treatment beams to the shape of the breast. Known as conformal radiation therapy, this technology gives doctors more control when treating breast cancer.
In conformal radiation
, a special computer uses CT imaging scans to create 3-D maps of the breast and the normal organs to be avoided, like the lung and heart. The system permits delivery of radiation from several directions and the beams can then be shaped, or conformed, to match the shape of the breast. Conformal radiation therapy limits radiation exposure to nearby healthy tissue as well as the tissue in the beam's path.
Deep Inspiration Breath Hold
This very specialized method for breast radiation is used for women with left-sided breast cancer.
The radiation is timed carefully to the respiration cycle of the woman — during a deep inspiration.
This method may cause the lung to expand and move the heart farther away from the left breast than without a breath hold. In this way, less radiation is given to the heart.
A woman is given special training on how to do this and works with her therapists to do this correctly every day of treatment.
Image-Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT)
Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) uses frequent imaging during a course of radiation therapy to improve the precision and accuracy of the delivery of the radiation treatment. In IGRT, the linear accelerators (machines that deliver radiation) are equipped with imaging technology that take pictures of the tumor immediately before or even during the time radiation is delivered.
Specialized computer software compares these images of the tumor to the images taken during the simulation to establish the treatment plan. Necessary adjustments can then be made to the patient's position and/or the radiation beams to more precisely target the breast and avoid the healthy surrounding tissue.
Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)
Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is an advanced mode of high-precision radiotherapy utilizing computer-controlled linear accelerators to deliver precise radiation doses to tumors or specific areas within the tumors.
Using 3-D computed tomography (CT) images of the patient in conjunction with computerized dose calculations, IMRT allows for the radiation dose to conform more precisely to the three-dimensional shape of the breast tumor by controlling—or modulating—the intensity of the radiation beam in multiple small volumes. The therapy allows higher radiation doses to be focused to regions within the breast while minimizing the dose to surrounding normal critical structures.<
IMRT may be used in some cases of IBC instead of 3-D conformal planning when the greater computer-assisted planning will help shape the dose treating the breast or spare normal tissue better.
For many women with large or pendulous breasts, and left-sided breast cancer, radiation can be planned and delivered with the patient lying on her stomach instead of her back.
The breast hangs down with gravity into an opening in the treatment table. This method can reduce the dose of radiation to the heart.
There may also be less immediate skin reactions from radiation with prone position in common areas like the underside of the breast by reducing skin folds.
is an external method of partial breast radiation.
Unlike conventional radiation that can affect surrounding healthy tissue as it enters the body and targets the tumor, proton therapy's precise, high dose of radiation is extremely targeted. This targeted precision causes less damage to healthy, surrounding tissue.
When aimed at cancer tumors, protons pack impressive power. Protons release their energy completely once they enter a tumor, limiting the radiation dose beyond the tumor, causing less damage to the healthy surrounding tissues and resulting in fewer side effects.
Even if you've already had a course of conventional radiation and are unable to receive more, you may still be able to receive proton therapy.
More facts about proton therapy:
- Proton therapy offers fewer reported side effects and complications
- Normal, healthy, surrounding tissues receive 50% to 70% less radiation
- Proton therapy offers an increased safe dose delivered to tumors
- Cure rates may be increased with proton therapy
- Proton therapy can re–treat tumors after recurrences.
Thanks to its marvelous precision, proton therapy is perhaps the most advanced treatment for cancer tumors located close to critical organs and highly sensitive areas, such as the spinal cord, heart and brain.
Proton therapy is also an important treatment option for cancers that cannot be completely removed by surgery.
Whole Breast Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy stops cancer cells from dividing and growing, thus slowing or stopping tumor growth. In many cases, radiation therapy is capable of killing all cancer cells. Radiation is generally given after surgery, but in some cases of inflammatory breast cancer, it may be given before surgery.
For more than 25 years, breast-conserving surgery and radiation therapy have been standard alternatives to mastectomy for women with early stage breast cancer. Radiation after a lumpectomy reduces the risk of a recurrence in the breast.
Historically, radiation therapy after lumpectomy has treated the whole breast — this may make sense as radiation was replacing another whole breast treatment (mastectomy). For many women, after radiation is given to the whole breast, an additional more focused dose of radiation is given to the lumpectomy cavity, called a cone down or boost.
Shorter Radiation Schedule
Conventional treatment schedules involve daily radiation Monday through Friday for five to six weeks.
Hypofractionation, however, uses fewer, larger dose radiation treatments (also called fractions) usually given over a shorter time period when compared to standard radiation fraction sizes.
This type of radiation therapy reduces the length of a course of treatment by two to three weeks compared to standard schedules. This reduced length of treatment reduces cost, reduces travel or lost days of work, and reduces the inconvenience of a course of radiation. In addition, studies show that there are no significant differences in cosmetic appearance of the breast or other negative side effects in women treated with a shorter course of radiation.