Preparing for radiation therapy for breast cancer, either after lumpectomy or post-mastectomy radiation therapy, can pay off later, when you start to get tired and visits get boring. Talk to your radiation oncologist about what to expect, think about breath-holding techniques, if you have left-sided breast cancer, ask questions, and let your family and friends help you and optimize your daily activities. Check out these tips for the best experience.
Radiation therapy for breast cancer
The timing and purpose of radiation can vary depending on whether you are having a lumpectomy or a mastectomy.
Post-lumpectomy radiation therapy usually begins three to four weeks after surgery and is used to remove any remaining cancer cells in the chest or armpits.
Radiation therapy is less common after a mastectomy, but can be done if positive lymph nodes are found during surgery or for other reasons. Unlike post-lumpectomy radiation, post-mastectomy radiation is usually given after chemotherapy is complete and is often given several months after mastectomy surgery.
There are two main types of radiation used in the treatment of breast cancer. Are:
- External beam radiation – the traditional approach to radiation delivery. Treatment usually lasts several weeks from Monday to Friday. In some cases, a shorter treatment regimen called accelerated radiation is used, which involves giving a higher dose of radiation over three to four weeks. Daily treatment with external beam radiation consists of establishing the time and actions to determine the location, followed by the reception of the radiation; a process that only takes a few minutes. Treatment is painless, but fatigue increases over time.
- Internal radiation for breast cancer : Brachytherapy, or internal radiation, is a new treatment in which radioactive drugs are injected only into the areas affected by breast cancer.
There are several factors to consider when planning this treatment.
Talk to your radiation oncologist about what to expect
While many people seem to have an idea of what to expect from surgery and chemotherapy, people are often surprised at how radiation affects them. Unlike scars after surgery and hair loss after chemotherapy, the effects of radiation are less noticeable.
Discuss what to do if you have redness and rashes, and ideally how to prevent it. There are some personal care products to avoid, and your radiation oncologist can help you understand which products to use and what to avoid.
If you've had a mastectomy or reconstruction, talk about how radiation can affect your healing and your risk of infection if you develop open sores. Many people are unaware of the risk of a failed reconstruction due to radiation. Be sure to discuss not only the risk that reconstruction will be more difficult after radiation, but also about complications that can arise during or shortly after reconstruction if you have tissue expanders.
Talk to your radiation oncologist about a breathing gate
If you have left-sided breast cancer, some of the radiation is likely going into the heart, and heart disease associated with radiation from breast cancer is a major concern. Radiation has been linked to various forms of heart disease, ranging from valve disease to rhythm disturbances and coronary artery disease.
Fortunately, "holding your breath" can significantly reduce the amount of radiation reaching the heart. With this technique, your technician will force you to hold your breath for short periods of time during each session. It is important to ask this before starting treatment, as special measures will need to be taken to ensure that breathing air into your lungs (and holding it in) will move your heart away from the radiation field.
Although research has shown the benefits of these methods, not everyone is informed about this option. Make sure you're the advocate for getting this smooth technique or at least being clear about why you don't need it.
Optimization of domestic and work tasks
Many people continue to work and take care of their home during radiation therapy, but this can be challenging, especially when the fatigue comes on in full force later in treatment. Do not plan any major projects for several weeks of treatment.
If the plan works during treatment, be aware that adjustments may be necessary when the cumulative effects of treatment begin, such as shorter work hours, rest periods during the day, and earlier bedtime.
Many people want to be heroes who can do it alone, but with breast cancer, sometimes the most daring thing is to ask for help; sometimes a lot. Talk to family, friends, and neighbors who know you are undergoing cancer treatment about upcoming radiation treatments. Accept offers for help with things like grocery shopping, laundry, errands, cooking, and babysitting. Most people want to help and prefer to be told what they can do to help.
Make a timeline of what help is needed and when it is needed. Radiation has a cumulative effect. There will probably be no decreased energy or other side effects during the first few sessions (although you will still feel tired from the surgery and chemotherapy if you also received it).
Online sites like lotahelpinghands can be invaluable as they save on a lot of phone calls. People can sign up to help with childcare, bring food, or take you to radiation, and those who want to help but haven't signed up yet can see where you need more help.
It is important to eat healthy, balanced foods during radiation exposure. Unfortunately, as fatigue worsens, some people get too tired to eat. Allowing family and friends to bring food and stocking up on foods that are easy to prepare before the show can help when times like these come around.
This is also not an ideal time to try to lose weight. You need your strength or your body needs nutrients to heal itself after each treatment. Getting enough protein to heal is also important, and if you are on a vegetarian or vegan diet, you need to be more vigilant about your protein intake.
Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables is important, but antioxidant supplements may not be worth it. Radiation works by creating oxidative stress ( free radicals ) by killing cancer cells. You don't want to protect your cancer cells from radiation by taking antioxidant supplements that reduce this oxidative stress.
Find or buy comfortable clothes
Your skin can become sensitive due to continuous radiation exposure, so loose-fitting tops and tops will be the most comfortable. If you must wear a bra, make it comfortable and place a soft cloth between the bra strap and your skin.
Do not starch blouses or shirts, and use a mild powdered detergent when washing clothes.
Protect your skin
During irradiation, it is important that your skin is clean and dry. Your radiation oncologist can recommend soaps and lotions that will not interfere with treatment or make your symptoms worse. While showering or bathing, pat dry gently and do not scrub. Do not use lotions, powders, perfumes, soaps, or deodorants on the treated area without first talking to your doctor.
When bathing, use lukewarm water and avoid water that is too hot or too cold.
Sunscreen can sometimes irritate skin exposed to radiation and it is best to use conservative sun protection measures such as long sleeves, a hat, an umbrella, and avoid the midday sun. Please note that you can easily get burned during exposure.
Be kind to yourself
We are often the worst critics when it comes to what we fail to achieve. Be kind to yourself and forgive yourself for not having the energy this time. When you feel ready, go out with your friends and family and have fun. After irradiation, get as much sleep as you want and as much as you need. Fatigue can last up to six weeks after treatment. When the 'what if' takes over, reach out to another survivor or loved one you trust and talk until you get perspective again. At the end of the treatment, the fatigue will disappear. This will happen gradually; It may take a while for you to get back to your energy level before radiation therapy.
Use weekends to recharge, not catch up
Many people try to delegate during the weekend to things that are not done during the week, but this can lead to burnout. Make rest and healing your number one priority over the weekend instead of trying to complete your to-do list.
Get the word of drug information
Taking the time to prepare not only physically but also mentally for radiation can pay off when fatigue reaches its peak. While it may seem like the treatment will last forever, it's really just a short break in life. Allow yourself to relax and treat yourself like a good friend.