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Intraoperative Radiation Therapy

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Intraoperative radiation therapy is a type of partial-breast radiation. With intraoperative radiation therapy, the entire course of radiation is delivered at one time during breast cancer surgery. Right after the cancer has been removed, while the underlying breast tissue is still exposed, a single high dose of radiation is given directly to the area where the cancer was.

Intraoperative radiation can be delivered with low-energy X-rays or electrons using a machine called a linear accelerator (the same machine used for external beam radiation). These techniques limit the dose beyond a certain distance. Special techniques are used to protect the underlying tissue when using electrons. The procedure can take about 2 minutes to an hour, and then the surgery is completed.

Intraoperative radiation therapy is only available at certain treatment centers. Studies looking at whether intraoperative radiation therapy is as good as external whole-breast radiation given after surgery have shown higher rates of recurrence (the cancer coming back) with intraoperative radiation. At this time, intraoperative radiation therapy is not recommended outside of clinical trials.

Written by: Jamie DePolo, senior editor

This content was developed with contributions from the following experts:

Chirag Shah, M.D., breast radiation oncologist, director of breast radiation oncology and clinical research in radiation oncology at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio

Marisa Weiss, M.D., chief medical officer and founder of, director of breast radiation oncology at Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood, PA


Martin TC, et al. American Brachytherapy Society Consensus Statement on intraoperative radiation therapy. Brachytherapy. 2019. Available at:

Shah C, et al. American Brachytherapy Society Consensus Statement on accelerated partial-breast radiation. Brachytherapy. 2017. Available at:

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