Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer

Beaumont Health employs an impressive array of high-tech equipment to precisely deliver external or internal radiation to the whole breast, part of the breast, the lymph nodes, or the chest wall after mastectomy.

External radiation can be delivered using a number of different techniques.

  • External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT) is the most common type of radiation used to treat breast cancer. Painless radiation treatments are delivered in a series of daily sessions, each requiring about 30 minutes, Monday through Friday, for six to seven weeks. A radiation oncologist will decide what type of treatment is best, depending on internal and external anatomy and the planning CT scan. Treatment occurs on an outpatient basis.
  • Whole breast irradiation is considered the standard of care for patients treated with breast-conserving therapy (BCT). Usually only the breast is treated, but sometimes the lymph nodes around the collarbone or underarm are included. Treatments occur daily over approximately six weeks.
  • 3-dimensional conformal radiotherapy (3DCRT) uses multiple radiation fields to deliver precise doses of radiation to the breast, while sparing normal tissue. The lymph nodes are sometimes included.
  • 3DCRT/quadrant breast irradiation delivers radiation to only a small portion of the breast. Multiple, targeted beams reduce the chances for irradiation of the heart and lungs.
  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is used to treat the majority of patients receiving radiation to the breast alone. IMRT is a form of 3DCRT that further modifies the radiation beam, varying the intensity of radiation to allow optimal treatment precision and dose delivery. Beaumont's Radiation Oncology Center is a global leader in the development and routine use of IMRT, and is one of only four sites in the nation to offer IMRT for breast cancer. IMRT improves the uniformity of dose delivery, with a goal of fewer immediate and long-term side effects than the 3DCRT offered at most other radiation oncology centers.
  • Active Breathing Control (ABC) coordinates radiation delivery with the breathing cycle to more precisely target radiation and avoid vital organs. Beaumont's Radiation Oncology department has pioneered the development of ABC. In patients with left-sided breast cancer, ABC can reduce the volume of heart muscle in the radiation field. Your radiation oncologist will tell you if you are a candidate for ABC.
  • Oncologists at Beaumont have also been studying the use of cardiac MRI, rather than traditional CT scanning, as a complement to ABC in evaluating the degree to which the heart can be avoided. Cardiac MRI allows them to assess more accurately any changes in the heart muscle that may occur during radiation treatment.
  • Partial breast irradiation confines radiation to the tumor site (lumpectomy cavity) and an adequate margin of surrounding normal tissue, rather than to the whole breast. Treatment time is reduced from six to seven weeks to only one week, though treatments are administered twice a day. Beaumont is one of the few centers in the United States to offer partial breast irradiation. Initial clinical data using this approach have shown excellent results, but the treatment is still considered investigational and is typically used in a select group of patients under national research protocols. Candidates for partial breast irradiation
    • are at least 45 years of age
    • have a small, adequately excised tumor
    • ideally have no cancer in the nearby lymph nodes

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