Radiation therapy is the treatment of using X-rays to kill cancer cells. This therapy is included in the type of targeted therapy that is often used in the treatment of breast cancer. Radiation is aimed directly at the location of the tumor, lymph nodes, or chest wall. Through this therapy, the spread of cancer can be stopped and the risk of recurrence can be reduced.
External radiation treatment is usually given five times per week for 5-7 weeks. The latest approach recommends a larger radiation dose for 3 weeks (accelerated breast irradiation). Most people can receive radiation therapy well.
The doctor may recommend internal radiation (brachytherapy). Internal radiation is a procedure when small pieces of radioactive material are placed around the location of the tumor. The total treatment time varies, ranging from hours to weeks. The short-term side effects of this therapy are relatively few, while the long-term side effects of this method are unknown.
Short-term side effects of radiation from breast cancer
The most common side effect of radiation therapy is skin irritation in the targeted area. After undergoing some initial therapy, your skin may become sensitive and begin to redden. Finally, the skin starts to look and feel like sunburn, itching, flaking or blistering. Pain and pain are very common. These irritants can get worse as long as the treatment continues. However, your skin will gradually recover in the weeks after the last treatment.
You may lose armpit hair if radiation is targeted at the area under the arm. In addition, the lower part of your arm will also rarely sweat as a side effect that is usually temporary.
While undergoing radiation therapy, many women complain of growing fatigue every week. The fatigue sensation will gradually disappear within a few weeks before the last treatment.
Because it is given every day for weeks, conventional external beam radiation therapy requires a huge time commitment. This process can certainly interfere with work and family responsibilities, especially if you do not have a means of transportation or live far enough from a provider of care facilities.
Estimate as much as 30 minutes to one hour for one therapy, even though the actual treatment only takes about 10 minutes. A busy daily schedule can cause emotional triggers, stress, or anxiety.
Long-term side effects
Because this therapy is targeted therapy, medical staff will spend a lot of time “marking” parts of the body before starting your first treatment. That is, they will take careful measurements to ensure that radiation will hit the right location. Then, the medical officer will make a small ink mark on your skin as a guide for further treatment. This sign will usually be tattooed on your skin permanently.
Dark skin in the radiation area will return to normal after months or years. In some cases, mild discoloration may be permanent, or the skin will appear thicker and tighter. The sensitivity of the skin or pain can sometimes last for months.
Radiation can cause some nerve damage which results in numbness and pain. Radiation therapy can limit reconstruction options and your freedom to breastfeed. These risks must be discussed with your doctor before you begin treatment.
Rare side effects
If you have undergone lymph node removal before undergoing radiation therapy, you are at risk of developing lymphedema or blockage of the lymph system. Lymphedema causes swelling of the arm where the lymph nodes are removed.
Other rare complications are:
Broken ribs due to weakening of the rib cage
Inflammation of lung tissue
Heart damage when radiation is given on the left side of the chest
Secondary cancer caused by radiation
Contact your doctor immediately if you experience shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, or chest pain.
Various potential side effects of breast cancer radiotherapy
The type and intensity of the side effects of radiotherapy that appear in each cancer patient can vary. Not everyone experiences the same symptoms. Some feel mild side effects, some are severe. This depends on the type of radiation, how often the patient is treated, which parts of the body are treated, and how healthy the patient is from the start.
Some radiotherapy side effects that you should know include:
1. Hair loss
Radiation therapy carried out around the head and neck will usually cause side effects of hair loss. Meanwhile, radiation carried out around the lower part of the body will not cause hair loss. Fortunately, hair loss only occurs during the treatment period and can grow back after the patient completes treatment.
2. Loss of appetite
One of the factors that causes cancer patients to be exhausted during the treatment period is a lack of nutrient intake because of decreased appetite. This condition is common in patients who undergo radiation around the head, neck and lungs. Fortunately, your appetite will improve again when treatment will be finished.
Although not lust, patients must always meet their nutritional needs every day. The tip is to eat small portions but more often.
Almost all cancer patients who undergo radiotherapy will experience fatigue. Stamina can tend to continue to decline during the treatment period until 2-3 weeks after treatment.
Different from ordinary fatigue, feeling tired faced by cancer patients who follow this therapy tends to be more severe.
For this reason, patients must prioritize rest, avoid heavy work, and do simple low-intensity exercise so that the body’s stamina is maintained.
4. Skin problems
Side effects faced by patients other than fatigue are skin problems. The area of the skin exposed to radiation will usually be red, burning, or irritated.
In this condition, the skin becomes very sensitive so that patients are prohibited from using scented skin products, tight clothing, perfume, and exposure to direct sunlight. To relieve the symptoms, the doctor will provide a special cream or gel for the patient’s skin.
5. Other side effects
Radiotherapy can cause a decreasein the number of white blood cells and platelets. As a result, the patient’s immune system becomes lower and susceptible to infectious diseases.
In addition, there are special side effects that attack certain areas of the body. For example, patients who get radiation around the pelvis may experience fertility problems. Meanwhile, patients who get radiation in the neck and head area are more prone to cavities.