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Radiation Therapy

When localized DCIS (lesion that appears in one limited place) has been detected on a mammogram or by physical exam, breast-conserving surgery in which the breast is not removed may be followed by radiation therapy as adjuvant treatment. There is a decrease in local recurrence of DCIS in women who receive radiation following surgery.

Indications for radiation following breast-conserving surgery
Radiation should be included following breast-conserving surgery if the DCIS has a high-grade histology, close margins, or is more than about 5/8 of an inch in size.

What is radiation therapy?
The purpose of radiation is to destroy any potential remaining DCIS that might still be in the breast. Radiation therapy is treatment with high-energy rays, and is given five days a week for a period of five to seven weeks.

Treatment is given on an outpatient basis. The radiation treatment itself takes several minutes. Patients are instructed to lie on a treatment table under the radiation machine. They are monitored during treatment by a therapist in the next room who uses a closed-circuit camera. Nothing touches the skin and there is no discomfort from the treatment. Patients are not made radioactive and the treatment only affects the specific area being treated.

Side-effects of treatment may include:

  • A sunburn-type appearance of the skin in the area treated, which may include blistering, redness, itching, dry skin, weeping skin (ask your doctor what skin creams and care you can do during radiation)
  • Mild swelling of the affected area
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

These common side effects generally occur toward the middle of treatment and continue for a short time after completion of the course of radiation treatment. Radiation skin changes may persist for months after treatment completion: change in skin color, texture and sensation.

When radiation is not an option
Radiation as a treatment for DCIS is not an option if you have any of the following conditions:

  • You have a history of autoimmune disease (especially scleroderma and lupus).
  • You have had previous therapeutic radiation to your breast and/or chest.
  • You have had previous radiation to your chest wall for acne.
  • You are pregnant.

If you have any of the first three factors, radiation can result in serious side effects and unsatisfactory changes in the appearance of your breast, while exposure to radiation during pregnancy is not considered safe to the fetus.


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