Fatigue, believed to be caused as the body uses all its resources during radiation, is also a common side effect, and it may last for a few months after treatment. It is generally modest compared to chemotherapy.
There is a newer technique called brachytherapy that may be available, either on or off a clinical trial. This uses focused local radiation therapy over a short time period. A new device called Mammosite applies radiation directly to the surgical cavity and is over in a few hours. You might ask your radiation oncologist his or her opinion about this option if you don’t want to get treatment every day for a number of weeks.
Once your radiation treatments are over, skin irritation may last for a few more weeks, especially if “boost” treatments are given. The boost is an extra amount of radiation given to the spot where the tumor was removed and can cause a more severe reaction. I did not suffer any skin irritation throughout radiation until I had my boost treatments.
Other long-term effects of radiation may include sharp, shooting pains in the breast, depression, weakness in otherwise healthy areas (like ribs, lungs, the heart) that were not completely protected from radiation, and in rare cases, radiation can cause a second cancer (as can chemotherapy). Still, they’re the best weapons we have to fight breast cancer, so they’re both valuable tools.
The tiny tattoos that mark the radiation spot do not fade. They are permanent, visible reminders of radiation. You can choose to have your tattoos removed. My 10 tattoos do not bother me, and I plan to keep them. Since radiation can’t be used on the same exact location more than once, my tattoos will forever mark the area that is now off limits.
Many women seek physical therapy after radiation due to limited range of motion in the arm and shoulder. Physical therapy is also effective in preventing and monitoring lymphedema (swelling in the arm due to removed lymph nodes during surgery). You might consider physical therapy for your overall healing during and after breast cancer treatment.
For a few years after radiation, you will visit your radiation team periodically to monitor your progress and address concerns. Hopefully, life will continue with breast cancer as nothing but a memory.
Kevin Knopf, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.