Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

Southern Tasmania Area Health ServicesTasmanian Health Service - Southern Region

Patient Information Brochure

Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer


Breast cancer

One in 12 women will develop breast cancer by the age of 75. In Tasmania about 300 women are diagnosed each year.

About 80 percent of all patients with breast cancer live at least 10 years after their diagnosis. Those who do are almost certainly cured.

This is very much dependent upon stage, grade and other factors regarding your cancer.  Please discuss this with your Radiation Oncologist.

Treating breast cancer

The following information is provided to help you make an informed decision about your treatment.

The main treatment for breast cancer is surgery which is often followed by radiation therapy.

Some patients will also need chemotherapy and/or hormone therapy

What is radiation therapy

Radiation therapy, sometimes called radiotherapy, is the use of high-energy x-rays to safely and effectively kill cancer cells.

Radiation oncologists use radiation therapy to try to cure cancer, to control tumour growth or to relieve symptoms, such as pain.

Radiation therapy works within cancer cells by damaging their ability to multiply. When these cells die, the body naturally eliminates them.

A radiation-delivery machine (called a linear accelerator) focuses the radiation beam to a precise location for an exact period of time.  Radiation is given in daily treatments, Monday through Friday, for several weeks.

Possible side effects

The following side effects may occur during or within a few weeks of finishing treatment:

  • The skin in the area being treated could become red and sore (like sunburn)
  • Fatigue or 'feeling tired' is common
  • The treatment may cause nausea and vomiting
  • It is normal to have some discomfort or pain in the treated area of your breast or under your arm
  • It is common to lose your underarm hair and your sweat glands may stop working in the area of treatment.

Your doctor or nurse will provide treatment or advice to deal on how to deal with these side effects.

Long Term side effects that may be permanent

  • Changes in bone strength (may be at risk of rib fracture) but this is very rare.
  • Swelling of the arm – uncommon
  • Your breast may become firm and or have a mild swelling, which may last for a few years
  • Mild shrinkage of the breast may also happen months or years after treatment

Our nurses are available to help you throughout your treatment and after completion. Do not be afraid to ask for help.

Helpful websites

Health insite
www.healthinsite.gov.au

Cancer institute of NSW
www.cancerinstitute.org.au

Cancer Council Tasmania
www.cancertas.org.au

Support Services

The following services are available to assist you during your treatment. Please ask staff for further details.

  • Social work
  • Dietitian
  • Cancer council transport
  • Look Good Feel Better program

Telephone Numbers

W.P Holman Clinic Reception
(03) 6166 8000

Radiation Therapy Scheduling
(03) 6166 2747


First Published: February 2010

Reviewed: February 2012