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Side Effects of Breast Cancer Radiation Therapy

Side Effects of Breast Cancer Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy for breast cancer involves targeting cancerous tissues, either by external or internal beam therapy. Though radiotherapy is effective for killing cancer cells, it is often associated with some adverse effects. Some of the commonly observed side effects are loss of appetite, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, weakness, skin problems, and chest pain.
Ningthoujam Sandhyarani
Last Updated: Apr 22, 2018
Breast cancer, as the name signifies, is a cancer that affects the tissues of the breast. In majority of the cases, cancerous cells are developed in two parts, namely, lobular glands and ducts. The former secretes milk, while the latter supplies milk to the nipples. These cancerous tissues form lumps over a period of time, which is the main noticeable symptom for diagnosis. This type of cancer occurs in both men and women. However, the occurrence rate of male breast cancer is very low. As per statistics, it is the second leading type of cancer after lung cancer.
Being diagnosed with it is like a nightmare that no women would dare want to hear. On the brighter side, if diagnosed in the early stages, it can be treated effectively. The physician prescribes the best treatment option based on the cancer type, stage, and overall health of the patient. The cancer may be treated with radiation, surgical procedure, or medications that include chemotherapy and hormone therapy. Each of these treatment options have their own set of pros and cons.
Side Effects
Radiation therapy for breast cancer involves usage of high intensity energy beams to kill the cancerous cells. A radiation machine that generates energy beams is used to target the cancerous cells in the breast. This phenomenon is referred to as external beam radiation therapy. On the contrary, if radiation is generated by placing radioactive particles inside the body, then it is called brachytherapy or internal beam therapy.
The effectiveness of radiation therapy to kill cancer cells is more in the early stages. In case of late stage, the physician may recommend radiation therapy in association with surgical treatment. The high energy radiation used in the therapy may also affect the healthy cells, thus leading to a number of symptoms.
Some of the commonly reported side effects are as follows:
  • Loss of appetite is commonly observed among several patients who have undergone radiation therapy.
  • Nausea, dizziness, and vomiting may also be experienced in some patients immediately after the therapy or a few days after the treatment.
  • In most patients, increased fatigue and weakness is common after the treatment.
  • As the armpit is closer to the site of the radiation therapy, it usually gets affected resulting in skin irritation, discomfort, and inflammation.
  • Another side effect of radiation therapy is mild to severe chest pain, which develops due to swelling and irritation of the nearby nerves.
  • Skin problems, which are characterized by reddening, peeling, and rashes are other adverse effects of radiation therapy.
In addition to this, the body's immune system is weakened after the therapy. Though it is a fact that the side effects (to some extent) are evident in all patients who have received the treatment, they are usually tolerable. At times, patients may experience discomfort at the site of treatment after the therapy. In order to combat these adverse effects, one should make healthy lifestyle changes like eating nutritious food and performing yoga, meditation, and mild exercises.
Currently, research is ongoing to find a more effective treatment with minimal side effects. In recent times, public awareness programs have also been implemented to make people more cognizant about the signs, symptoms, and treatments of breast cancer. Positive results in terms of decrease in breast cancer rates are observed all over the world.