Radiotherapy for breast cancer patients in Australia
Radiotherapy is a safe and proven treatment for killing cancer cells without harming surrounding skin tissue. It can be used to treat all types of cancers but specifically for breast cancer patients, the regimen is implemented following mastectomy or breast conserving surgery. The aim is to either destroy any surviving cancer cells to prevent the cancer from recurring or in cases where cancer cannot be cured, the treatment is administered to provide symptom relief.
For breast cancer patients, radiotherapy may be used in isolation or in combination with other treatment methods. Based on the individual’s condition, radiotherapy may be accompanied by surgery or chemotherapy. Occasionally, breast cancer treatment may only use radiation therapy alone without the need for any surgical procedure.
What is the Process of Radiotherapy to treat breast cancer?
If radiotherapy is chosen to treat breast cancer, then the treatment course will be devised based on the individual’s age, overall health, the type and location of the tumour as well as the stage of the disease.
To initiate treatment, patients need to meet with a radiation oncologist and see if radiotherapy will be beneficial for them. Planning for the procedure involves specialists and other health professionals who are connected to the patient and a treatment plan is laid out based on the patient’s individual needs. Patients are welcome to discuss treatment options and ask any questions that they may have. At this point, they will also be informed of all the steps involved in the procedure as well as of any side effects that may occur during or after the treatment.
Once treatment begins, the area to be treated will be marked with small permanent tattoos to ensure that the exact same area is treated every time. Typically radiotherapy session will be scheduled between Mondays to Fridays for a duration of 5-6 weeks. The process of actually receiving radiation may not be more than a few minutes per session but the stay in the treatment room will be longer. For most of this time, patients will be positioned correctly on the treatment bed so that the targeted area can be accurately exposed to the radiation.
Once on the CT bed, it is important for patients lie very still and breathe normally. Any sudden movement can impact the quality of the scan which may then need to be repeated all over again.
When the patient is in position and the machine ready to be turned on, the therapist will leave the room. The apparatus will then be switched on by the therapist from outside the room and if needed, any communication will be done through a microphone. Cameras are also installed in the treatment room so that the therapist is able to monitor the patient during the therapy session.
Through the course of the radiotherapy, patients are scheduled to meet with their radiation oncologist weekly to track their progress and address any concerns they may have.
Patients undergoing radiotherapy are treated as outpatients and will need to return to the treatment site every day for the course of their therapy.
1) Radiotherapy for breast cancer: http://www.cancersa.org.au/information/a-z-index/radiotherapy-for-breast-cancer
2) Radiotherapy for Breast Cancer: http://www.sswahs.nsw.gov.au/rpa/oncology/breast.html
3) What is Radiation Therapy?: http://www.ranzcr.edu.au/radiation-oncology/what-is-radiation-therapy