Radiation therapy plays an important role in breast cancer treatment. We use it after surgery to kill remaining cancer cells.

At Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, we use advanced imaging, innovative technology and expert planning to deliver effective radiation treatments. Our specialized radiation oncologists personalize radiation therapy to quickly and safely treat breast cancer.

What Is Radiation Therapy?

Radiation treatment uses high-energy radiation to destroy cancer cells. Radiation can be:

  • External, delivered as x-rays or proton beams from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy)
  • Internal, distributed by radioactive material placed directly in or near a tumor (brachytherapy)

External-beam radiation is most often used to treat breast tumors, though internal radiation may be used in some cases.

Radiation for Breast Cancer: The Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health Advantage

We offer radiation therapy as part of our comprehensive breast cancer care. At Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, you can expect:

  • Collaborative approach: Our radiation oncologists work closely with our colleagues at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia. Together we review every radiation case to determine the most effective plan for each patient.
  • Personalized treatment: We also consider the cancer’s recurrence rate (chances of returning), your other treatments and your wishes before recommending radiation. Then we tailor your radiation therapy to your anatomy, diagnosis and tumor location.
  • Advanced technology: We use the latest machines and techniques to treat breast cancer. CT simulation allows us to plan your treatment and individualize each session to your anatomy and the tumor.
  • Accelerated radiation: Our patients receive accelerated (hypofractionated) treatment whenever possible. This technique decreases the number of treatments and radiation time from six weeks to under four weeks.
  • Convenient treatment: We administer radiation therapy at the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute in Lancaster—close to home in a familiar location.

Safety During Breast Cancer Radiation

The heart’s location in relation to the breasts often makes delivering radiation for breast cancer challenging. To reduce the heart’s exposure to radiation, we use precision technology and additional techniques including:

  • Extensive 3D planning: Every patient goes through a simulation process before beginning treatment. Our advanced CT scanners help us create a detailed radiation plan that targets cancer cells while avoiding healthy organs.
  • Deep inspiration breath hold (DIBH): When you hold your breath, your lungs expand, and your heart moves away from your chest. This technique protects your heart from radiation and works well for patients with left-sided cancer.
  • Prone positioning: Lying prone (face down) during radiation treatment allows the radiation beam to reach breast tumors while reducing exposure to the heart and lungs. This is very helpful, especially for women with large breasts, left-sided cancer or history of lung problems.

How We Approach Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

At Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, your cancer team collaborates to determine the best treatment plan. Our experience with a wide range of technology allows us to customize your radiation therapy.

We often use radiation in combination with other breast cancer treatments, according to the patient’s diagnosis, anatomy and tumor location. Watch what to expect during radiation therapy at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health.

In addition to conventional radiation, the more advanced types of radiation therapy we use to treat breast cancer include:

3D Conformal Radiation

Conformal radiation allows doctors to shape (conform) the radiation beam to match the exact shape of the breast. We use CT (computed tomography) scans to help us create a 3D map of the breast so we can adjust the angles of the beams and the radiation strength as needed. Conformal radiation targets the tumor while reducing damage to surrounding tissue.

Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)

Similar to conformal radiation, intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) uses complex radiation patterns created using CT scans. A machine called a linear accelerator varies the intensity of radiation and closely matches the shape of the tumor. IMRT may avoid normal tissue better than conventional radiation in certain cases and can be useful for more complicated post-mastectomy cases.

Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT)

Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) focuses a high dose of radiation at one spot by using many beams at different angles and intensities.

We use CyberKnife® to treat tumors and nodules with extreme accuracy, especially if cancer spreads to spots in the lung. This robotic technology adjusts to the patient’s breathing cycle and tracks tumor movement throughout treatment to precisely deliver radiation.

Internal Radiation

Internal radiation (brachytherapy) treats cancer from the inside, without exposing the breast to external beams. This targeted treatment typically follows a lumpectomy and relies on a short-course approach, with treatment lasting just a week or less.

At Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, we perform brachytherapy using the SAVI® system, which delivers radiation using an implanted catheter device inserted through a small breast incision. A computer-controlled machine delivers radiation through the device to treat the area.

Managing the Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

Side effects from radiation therapy are different for everyone. During and/or shortly after your radiation treatment, you may notice:

  • Breast pain
  • Fatigue
  • Redness or bruising at treatment site (after internal radiation)
  • Skin irritation (redness, peeling, darkening)
  • Swelling in the breast

Radiation therapy for breast cancer may cause side effects later on including:

  • Lymphedema (pain and swelling in the arm or chest)
  • Nerve damage in the arm (called brachial plexopathy)
  • Problems with breastfeeding

At Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, we offer a wide range of support services to help you manage any side effects of radiation therapy. Our team includes nurses, social workers and nutritionists whose goal is to make your experience as positive and painless as possible.

Request an Appointment for Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

To make an appointment at the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute, call 717-544-9400 or request a callback using our online form.

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