Breast cancer is more and more often detected at the initial stage and is successfully treated. The main treatment method for this disease is surgery, since more and more often the doctors perform not total, but partial mastectomy. Most patients also require radiation therapy for breast cancer. It is carried out abroad not only efficiently, but also safely. Modern equipment allows the specialists to irradiate target areas precisely and without radiation injury to adjacent healthy tissues and organs (e.g. heart and lungs).
At what stages of breast cancer is radiotherapy carried out?
Radiation therapy may be used for treating all stages of breast cancer. As a rule, irradiation does not become the first-line treatment that a doctor prescribes for a woman after the detection of a malignant neoplasm. More often, it is only an addition to the surgery. Irradiation is required for reduction of the risk of recurrence.
At the first stage of breast cancer, the treatment usually begins with a sectoral resection. During the operation, the doctor removes part of the breast. Then a course of radiation therapy is required so that the tumor does not reappear.
At the second stage of breast cancer, not only sectoral resection can be performed, but also in some cases mastectomy – total breast removal. Such women usually do not need external beam radiation, but it still can be carried out according to clinical indications.
At the third stage of breast cancer, the doctors often begin with drug therapy for breast cancer. If the tumor size decreases, radical mastectomy may be performed. This is usually followed by a course of radiation therapy.
Stage four breast cancer cannot be cured completely. Metastatic breast cancer is mainly treated by systemic methods (chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy). External radiation is used as a palliative method. It is aimed at reducing symptoms, preventing and eliminating complications.
Irradiation after sectoral breast resection
Due to the implementation of screening (mass examination of women), breast cancer is increasingly detected at the early stages. Most patients want to preserve the breast during treatment. Therefore, the number of organ-preserving operations is constantly growing in the world. After organ-preserving interventions, irradiation is performed necessarily, in order to prevent breast cancer recurrence.
In order to reduce the risk of side effects and not to interfere with the normal healing of surgical wounds, radiation oncologists carry out irradiation no earlier than in 2-4 weeks after surgery. It is not performed simultaneously with chemotherapy. If chemotherapy is required, then the irradiation is carried out in 3-4 weeks upon the course completion.
The refusal of radiation therapy is only possible in women after 70, under the following conditions: with luminal A breast cancer, in the absence of risk factors for recurrence, without metastases in the lymph nodes, with a tumor size of up to 2 cm in the largest dimension, and in the obligatory undergoing of a long-term hormonal therapy course.
Irradiation after mastectomy
Most women after mastectomy do not require a consultation of radiation oncologists. External beam radiation is used only in the following cases:
- Detection of metastatic foci in removed axillary lymph nodes
- Detection of cancer cells in the resection edges or at a distance of less than 1 mm from the edge of the removed tissue
- Size of the primary tumor at the time of removal exceeds 5 cm
After a mastectomy, a woman needs more time to recover. Therefore, the radiation oncologists prescribe radiation therapy no earlier than in 4-6 weeks after the operation.
Radiation therapy for metastatic breast cancer
Most hospitals do not use radiation therapy for metastatic breast cancer. This procedure increases the total cost of treatment and sometimes leads to the development of side effects. However, there is no convincing clinical evidence that radiation therapy increases survival rate of patients with metastatic breast cancer.
Radiation therapy is usually carried out in order to improve the quality of life of the woman. Some large tumors can lead to the development of open sores on the thoracic wall. Metastases in the brain cause neurological symptoms. Metastatic foci in bones often lead to their fracture. Radiation therapy reduces the size of metastases, eliminates some clinical symptoms and reduces the risk of complications development.
Which body regions are subject to irradiation?
Depending on the stage of the breast cancer, the size of the tumor, and the treatment performed, the doctors can irradiate:
- Malignant tumor, if surgical treatment of breast cancer is impossible
- Whole mammary gland, if organ-preserving operation is performed
- An additional dose of radiation may be directed to the area where the tumor was located before its removal
- Anterior thoracic wall, if cancer cells are detected at the edges of the operating wound after mastectomy
- Lymph nodes and lymph drainage areas
In metastatic breast cancer, it is possible to carry out irradiation of distant tumor foci, for example in the brain.
How is radiation therapy carried out abroad?
Foreign radiation oncologists carry out treatment of breast cancer using modern equipment. They use the very latest linear accelerators in order to ensure high precision and safety of the procedure.
Types of external beam radiation, which are used abroad:
- 3D conformal radiation therapy – directs the beams to the target area at different angles, from different sides. Such approach allows the doctors to concentrate the entire dose of radiation in the target area, practically without irradiating the surrounding tissues.
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy allows the radiation oncologists to adjust the intensity of the rays in some areas, which is especially important when the target region is located near vital organs (for example, near the heart).
- Image-guided radiation therapy involves determining the tumor location using MRI or CT scan right before each radiation session.
Radiation therapy is usually carried out within 6-7 weeks. A woman must visit the clinic 5 days a week.
Some hospitals abroad use accelerated partial breast irradiation programs. This can be intraoperative radiation therapy, brachytherapy, or external beam radiation with an increase in the dose of radiation. The whole course of radiation therapy is usually designed for 5 days. Such a quick treatment is convenient for most women, as they do not need to stay abroad for a long time. Women can quickly return to work and their usual everyday activities.
Most women may experience the following short-term side effects during radiation therapy for breast cancer:
- Breast swelling
- Skin redness, its peeling
- General weakness, fatigue, irritability
Long-term side effects may also occur. Sometimes the breast becomes denser. This is due to the growth of fibrous (scar) tissue in it. In the most unfavorable cases, the deformation of the breast is possible. Due to the risk of such side effects, most doctors recommend a woman to undergo radiation therapy for breast cancer, and only then undergo breast reconstruction surgery, in order not to impair the aesthetic results.
Due to the destruction of breast tissue by radiation, problems with breastfeeding are possible.
Sometimes external beam radiation damages the brachial plexus. Nerve damage leads to the development of additional side effects, such as hand soreness, weakness and numbness of the skin, extending to the forearm and hand.
The following rare complications and side effects occur when using outdated gamma devices:
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Rib fractures
- Cardiomyopathy (heart damage)
- Onset of another malignant tumor – angiosarcoma
To avoid severe side effects, contact modern hospitals, which use linear accelerators rather than gamma machines for breast cancer radiation therapy. In developed countries, they are used less and less often. For example, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark do not use gamma devices for the treatment of oncology for a long time.
Why is it better to undergo breast cancer treatment abroad?
In foreign hospitals, the cost of treatment may be lower, radiation therapy can be completed faster and with fewer side effects.
Benefits of treatment abroad include the following.
Modern equipment. The clinics that admit foreign patients have state-of-the-art linear accelerators, equipment for intraoperative radiation therapy and brachytherapy, as well as the qualified healthcare professionals to work with the equipment.
Safety. The precise direction of irradiation to the target areas from different angles reduces significantly the radiation exposure to the surrounding tissues. Therefore, health risks during the procedure and after it will be minimal.
Accelerated irradiation. If you do not want to attend radiation sessions for a month and a half, you can undergo it during just 5 days. Some hospitals use accelerated partial breast irradiation programs.
Treatment abroad with Booking Health
You can use the Booking Health service in order to undergo radiation therapy for breast cancer with modern equipment, without being on the waiting list for several months, at an affordable price. On the Booking Health website you can find the information about leading foreign hospitals, doctors, types of radiation therapy and prices. You can compare the cost of treatment in different clinics and book a medical program at the best price.
The Booking Health company will help you to go abroad for a treatment and will resolve all organizational issues. We provide the following services and benefits:
- Selection of the clinic, which specializes in the treatment of breast cancer and has the very latest equipment for safe radiation therapy
- Direct communication with the radiation oncologist
- Reduced waiting period for breast cancer treatment and making appointment on the convenient date
- Reduced cost of treatment – prices are reduced due to the avoiding additional coefficients for foreign patients
- Reliable information about your expenses, the cost of individual medical procedures, funds remaining in the account
- Preparation of a medical program without the need to undergo previously performed examinations, answering all questions about the medical program
- Communication with the clinic after medical program completion
- Buying and forwarding medicines
- Organization of additional diagnostics or treatment abroad
The specialists of Booking Health provide high quality services. We will book a hotel and airline tickets for you, organize a transfer from the airport to the hospital and back.