What is a radiation oncologist?
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, there is a good chance you will be offered breast radiation. You will ultimately consult with a radiation oncologist, usually soon after your surgery or possibly after surgery and chemotherapy are both completed. You’ll get better breast cancer care when your radiation oncologist works as a team with your breast surgeon. Many of the recent cutting-edge treatments in breast cancer care are advancements in breast radiation.
Radiation oncologists are different from breast radiologists, who interpret mammograms, breast ultrasounds, and MRIs at an imaging center. Radiation oncologists are specially trained cancer doctors that use sophisticated radiation equipment to focus beams of intense radiation to kill cancer cells. Take our video lessons on “What is Breast Radiation“ and “Will I Need Radiation“ to learn more.
Who needs radiation?
If you are going to have a lumpectomy to remove your breast cancer, then you will likely need radiation to reduce the chance of cancer growing back in the surgical area.
Radiation is occasionally needed after a mastectomy. This is called Post-Mastectomy Radiation Therapy (PMRT). It is usually reserved for more advanced cancers that are larger, have spread to the lymph nodes, or if cancer has recurred in the breast or skin after a prior breast cancer surgery. If you think you might need PMRT, it is essential to see your radiation oncologist before you have mastectomy surgery. He or she will better understand the size, shape, and extent of your breast tumor before it is removed by surgery or has shrunk away with neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
What are some cutting-edge advances in breast radiation?
New, cutting-edge radiation therapies are designed to achieve excellent outcomes with more focused treatments, fewer side effects, and less personal distress. Even if you qualify for one of these treatments, that does not mean it is the best option for your unique cancer. This is where you and your radiation oncologist work together to decide the best treatment pathway for you. Most of the cutting-edge options discussed at the Breast Cancer School for Patients are appropriate for a few, select breast cancer patients. We teach you how to bring these options into your discussions with your breast specialists. Here are some questions to ask your radiation oncologist about breast cancer radiation.
- How can I avoid radiation and its side effects?
- Would I benefit from a shorter course of radiation?
- Am I a candidate for Brachytherapy or Intraoperative radiation?
- Is “Prone Breast Radiation” a better option for me?
- Would a genomic assay help me avoid radiation?
Should I see a radiation oncologist before surgery?
Ask your breast surgeon or medical oncologist if you should be referred to see a radiation oncologist before surgery or chemotherapy. It is best to see your radiation oncologist before surgery when you have a more advanced cancer such as inflammatory breast cancer or if the cancer has grown into the skin of the breast or the muscles behind the breast. Your care will be more comprehensive in these situations if you visit your radiation oncologist early in your treatment journey. Most patients have early stage cancer and do not need to see their radiation oncologist before surgery.
You must engage your radiation oncologist with questions
The Breast Cancer School for Patients helps you engage your radiation oncologist in your care. We teach you with short video lessons exactly what will be discussed so you can quickly become an expert in breast cancer treatment. You will be asked to make important treatment decisions quickly. Print our course notes with the key questions to make sure you are offered the best treatment choices. We educate you so you can engage and work as a team with your breast cancer specialists. Get informed before speaking with your doctor.
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