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Lt Col Flemings
Radiation therapy treats breast cancer by using targeted, high-energy rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. Major Spencer, can you tell us more about radiation therapy?

Maj Spencer
Certainly, Dr. Flemings. For women with breast cancer, radiation therapy is almost never used alone, but rather in combination with surgery. Its purpose is to destroy any cancer remaining in the breast or surrounding tissue after surgery. This is particularly important with lumpectomy, since so much of the breast tissue is left intact.

Many women who have had a mastectomy do not need radiation therapy. In some cases, however, radiation is used after mastectomy to treat the chest wall and the axillary lymph nodes under the arm.

Radiation therapy after surgery is an option for women who have ductal carcinoma in situ, early stage breast cancer, locally advanced breast cancer, or inflammatory breast cancer. However, pregnant women with early stage breast cancer cannot receive radiation therapy because it can harm the unborn baby. For pregnant women with late stage breast cancer, radiation therapy is delayed until after the baby is born, if possible.

There are two types of radiation therapy: external and internal. External radiation, which is more common, uses a large machine that aims high-powered beams of energy toward the cancer. Internal radiation places a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters directly into or near the cancer inside the body. The type and stage of the cancer help determine which form of radiation therapy is most appropriate.