To start off, you'll be measured so that your radiation oncologist and his technicians will know exactly where to aim the radiation beam and how to calibrate the correct dosage. "We do a CAT scan of the breast, heart, and lungs just to see where the structures are," says Jay L. Bosworth, MD, a radiation oncologist with the Nassau Radiologic Group in Manhasset, N.Y., and a Fellow of the American College of Radiology. "And we put tiny tattoo dotsthe size of a freckleon the breast" to ensure the radiation is delivered to the right spot every time.
In the traditional form of the treatment, during the first five weeks, the entire affected breast is usually treated in case any cancerous cells were left behind from surgery and/or chemotherapy. "Then we do a 'boost' [of radiation] in the last week," says Dr. Bosworth, to the area where the tumor was. Other, newer treatments may involve different routines.
You're likely to feel more fatigued as the weeks of radiation treatment go by, and the skin around the area being treated may suffer. You may experience redness, itchiness, dryness, or darkening of the skin. Big-busted women with skin folds under their breasts or armpits are more likely to have peeling, as are patients who had chemo before radiation, since it makes the skin more sensitive. A rare, long-term side effect is weakened rib bones.