How Long Does Breast Cancer Radiation Last?

Learn about how long does it take for breast cancer radiation treatments and what are some potential risks associated with it.

How Long Does Breast Cancer Radiation Last?

The standard schedule for receiving total breast radiation is five days a week (Monday through Friday) for a period of six to seven weeks. However, many doctors now recommend shorter treatment programs, known as hypofractionated treatment, which can reduce the duration of irradiation of the entire breast by one to four weeks. Partial breast irradiation can even be completed in five days or less. These hypofractionated treatment programs are just as effective as longer ones and may even reduce the risk of certain side effects.

Your radiation oncologist can help you decide which course of treatment is best for you. External-beam radiation is usually administered once a day, five days a week, for two to ten weeks on an outpatient basis. This means that you can go home after each session. Radiation therapy for early-stage breast cancer is typically administered once a day, five days a week, for one to six weeks.

The radiation session program is tailored to treat breast cancer, so schedules may vary from person to person. If your treatment plan includes mastectomy, radiation therapy, and breast reconstruction, it is important to discuss potential risks with your plastic surgeon and radiation oncologist. Before beginning internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy), a special device is used to place the radioactive material in the area where the cancer was removed. The most common type of radiation therapy is external-beam radiation, according to the American Cancer Society.

A booster increases the amount of radiation delivered to the tumor bed, which is the area most at risk of breast cancer recurrence. However, some patients may not benefit from radiation therapy as much as others, including those 65 years of age or older with small cancers. It is important to discuss the pros and cons of partial breast radiation therapy compared to total breast radiation therapy. Before the first treatment session, you will have a radiation therapy planning session (simulation), during which a radiation oncologist will carefully map out the area of your breasts to determine the precise location of the treatment.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) are respected organizations that regularly review and update their guidelines. With this method, a large machine sends beams of radiation to the area of the breast that has been affected by cancer. Depending on the type and stage of the cancer, radiation may be used alone as a treatment for breast cancer or with other therapies. For breast cancer, radiation therapy usually starts about three to four weeks after breast-conserving therapy or mastectomy, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. This helps ensure that radiation destroys as many cancer cells as possible while causing as little damage as possible to other parts of the body. Partial radiation therapy to the breast is an appropriate treatment for certain people with early-stage breast cancer.

Fast-growing cells, such as cancer cells, are more susceptible to the effects of radiation than normal cells. After radiation therapy to the entire breast, you may receive more radiation to the part of the breast that had the tumor (tumor bed).