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Staying on Track With Radiation Treatments

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The benefits of radiation strongly depend upon getting the full recommended dose without significant breaks.

These two elements of your treatment plan are vital because:

  • the full dose of radiation is needed to get rid of cancer cells remaining after surgery
  • radiation therapy is most effective when given continuously. In the past, it was given every day, 5 days a week, for 5 to 7 weeks. Accelerated, also called hypofractionated, radiation therapy schedules deliver the same amount of total radiation over a shorter schedule — usually 3 to 5 weeks, which can be more convenient for many women.

Also, by seeing your doctor regularly during and after treatment, you can best deal with any side effects and catch any possible cancer return as soon as possible.

Problems you might have with sticking to your radiation therapy plan:

  • The treatment schedule may conflict with job demands, family needs, or the distance you live from the treatment facility. This may cause you to miss or postpone appointments, even if you’re on an accelerated schedule..
  • Skin irritation from radiation can cause soreness, peeling, and, sometimes, blisters. If you've also had lymph-node surgery, radiation treatment may worsen armpit discomfort. If you have these side effects, you might feel like stopping radiation.

Ways to overcome problems with staying on track:

  • Talk with staff members at your radiation treatment center about your scheduling needs. They will try to work out an appointment schedule that's as convenient as possible for you.
  • Short-term interruptions of a day or two off from treatment are unlikely to reduce the effectiveness of radiation therapy. So if you need to take a short break, let your doctor know and get back on schedule as soon as possible.
  • If you must miss a session, it can be added on to the end of your treatment schedule. Discuss this with staff at the radiation treatment center.
  • Learn about side effects of radiation and how to manage them.
  • If your skin is uncomfortably raw, ask your doctor about a stronger skin care program. Very occasionally, it may be necessary to take a brief break to allow the skin to recover. Talk to your doctor about how much time you can take off and how to get back on schedule as comfortably as possible.

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