Radiation therapy also called radiotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. At low doses, radiation is used in x-rays to see inside your body, as with x-rays of your teeth or broken bones. At high doses, radiation therapy kills cancer cells or slows their growth by damaging their DNA. Cancer cells whose DNA is damaged beyond repair stop dividing or die. When the damaged cells die, they are broken down and removed by the body. Radiation therapy does not kill cancer cells right away.
Radiation for Breast Cancer | American Cancer Society
If you're using a flashlight in a dark room, you can see the light as a beam, which you can aim at objects. The beam from a flashlight starts out the same size as the lens, and widens until it touches a surface, such as the floor, or the wall. If you aim the light through a window, it will pass right through and illuminate whatever is on the outside. Radiation therapy behaves in a similar way to the flashlight beam, but it possesses much more energy and is not visible to our eyes. Like the light of the flashlight passing through a window, the beam of radiation will pass through breast tissue as it hits your cells. During treatment, high-energy beams of radiation will be carefully aimed at the area of the breast from which the cancer was removed.
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Breast cancer is treated both locally with surgery and radiation and systemically hormone therapies, chemotherapy, and targeted therapies. You can have a lumpectomy, which removes only the tumor and leaves the healthy part of the breast, or a mastectomy, which removes the whole breast. Your doctor may also remove your lymph nodes, which are under the arm, to make sure there is no cancer there.
At Mayo Clinic, doctors who specialize in using radiation therapy to treat breast cancer work together to develop individualized treatment plans. Your care team is led by a cancer doctor with extensive training in the use of radiation to treat cancer radiation oncologist. At Mayo Clinic, radiation oncologists who treat breast cancer are highly specialized, which means a substantial amount of their time is devoted to caring for women with breast cancer. Your radiation oncologist works with a team of experts such as physicists, dosimetrists, radiation therapists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and nurses to ensure the safe delivery of radiation therapy.