Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

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Radiation therapy is often combined with other breast cancer treatments -- including surgery, chemotherapy, and/or hormone therapy -- to reduce the risk that your breast cancer will return. Duke radiation oncologists work closely with your surgical and medical oncologists, and with other members of your breast cancer team, to coordinate your care. We use the latest techniques to accurately target your radiation therapy to your cancer and minimize exposure of your healthy tissue to radiation.

When Is Radiation Therapy Used?

Radiation Therapy Following Lumpectomy
Most people who have a lumpectomy will undergo radiation therapy four to six weeks following surgery.

Radiation Therapy Following Mastectomy
Radiation therapy may be recommended after mastectomy to treat the chest wall and lymph nodes near the chest wall. If radiation therapy is recommended following mastectomy, our radiation oncologists work very closely with your breast surgeon and plastic surgeon to coordinate with any plans for breast reconstruction.

Radiation Therapy for Metastatic Breast Cancer
If you have metastatic breast cancer (cancer that has spread from the breast to other organs in the body), radiation therapy may be recommended to relieve pain or other symptoms.

Your Safety Is Our Priority

Targeted Radiation Delivered Through Linear Accelerator
As it rotates around your body, the linear accelerator delivers a targeted beam of high-energy X-rays to the breast tissue affected by cancer. Treatment is typically given five days a week over a three- to six-week period.

Protecting Healthy Tissue
Minimizing radiation exposure of your healthy tissues -- especially your heart and lungs -- is one of our top priorities. To do so, we use numerous technologic innovations and safety checks to ensure your treatment is given accurately.

Planning Session
During the planning session, we use a CT scan to identify the tissue that will receive radiation, as well as the healthy tissue to be protected. This session also ensures you are comfortable during your radiation treatments.

Practice Session
We also conduct a practice session with the linear accelerator. It goes through the motions of treatment and takes pictures to make sure your body is correctly positioned. Once your radiation treatment begins, frequent images ensure you stay properly aligned. 

Prone Positioning
The position of your body during your treatment helps protect your heart and lungs from radiation exposure. With prone positioning, women, often with larger breasts, lie on their stomachs for treatment. Women with left-sided breast cancers are often asked to inhale deeply and hold their breath for approximately 20 seconds in order to move the heart away from the radiation field. This technique is called deep inspiration breath hold.

Duke Breast Cancer Centers
Duke breast cancer centers are located in Durham, Raleigh, Cary, and throughout the Triangle.

Why Choose Duke

Board-Certified Radiation Oncologists
Your radiation treatments will be overseen by board-certified radiation oncologists who specialize in breast cancer. Your radiation oncologist oversees a team of caregivers, including the radiation therapists who administer your treatments.

Clinical Trial Access
Our radiation specialists study new ways to use radiation therapy for breast cancer, and you may be able to participate in these clinical trials. For example, we currently are studying the effects of administering a single dose of radiation before surgery. Another clinical trial is testing how the need for radiation may be impacted by chemotherapy response. Ask your radiation oncologist if you are eligible to participate in a clinical trial.

Among the Best Cancer Hospitals in U.S.
Where you receive your cancer care is important. Duke University Hospital's cancer program is ranked among the nation's best by U.S. News & World Report for 2019–2020.