Radiation therapy commonly is used after lumpectomy to remove early-stage breast cancer. The radiation therapy destroys any cancer cells that may be left behind and reduces the risk of the cancer coming back. Still, whole-breast radiation can cause problems in women who have had implants inserted to increase breast size BEFORE breast cancer diagnosis. Whole-breast radiation therapy after lumpectomy can cause the capsule that naturally forms around a breast implant to contract. This contraction can cause cosmetic problems.
A small study found that internal radiation therapy, also called brachytherapy, didn't cause the implant capsule to contract. The 70 women with implants in the study all had good cosmetic outcomes after lumpectomy and internal radiation therapy. None of the women had the breast cancer come back during the more than 2 years of follow-up after treatment.
External radiation, also called external beam radiation, is the most common type of radiation therapy. In external radiation, a machine called a linear accelerator aims a beam of high-energy radiation at the area affected by the cancer. This type of radiation is given 5 days a week, over 5 to 7 weeks, depending on each woman's particular situation. External radiation is given as an outpatient procedure.
Internal radiation usually uses very small bits of radioactive material, called seeds. The seeds are put into several small tubes (catheters) or into a balloon-catheter device called MammoSite. The seeds in the catheter are placed in the area around where the cancer was. The seeds emit radiation into the surrounding tissue. The area that's very close to the site of the original cancer is the area at highest risk for the cancer coming back. Internal radiation usually is given over 5 to 7 days, a much shorter time than external radiation. Still, internal radiation systems need a skilled and experienced medical team and available radioactive materials. Other research has shown that internal radiation therapy is safe and as effective as external radiation therapy.
If you've been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer and have breast implants, you and your doctor will talk about the types of surgery that make sense for your specific situation. Lumpectomy that preserves your existing implant followed by radiation therapy may be a good choice for you. Based on the results of this study, internal radiation may be good option to help ensure good cosmetic results after lumpectomy.
In the Breastcancer.org Radiation Therapy section, you can learn much more about how and when radiation therapy is used, the ways it is given, and what to expect during treatment.