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What is breast cancer radiation therapy?

Breast cancer radiation therapy is used to destroy breast tumor cells and relieve symptoms caused by tumors. This treatment can be used before surgery to shrink a tumor, after surgery to destroy remaining cancer cells or for tumors that are inoperable. Breast cancer radiation therapy is sometimes given along with chemotherapy.

There are a variety of breast cancer radiation therapies. Your therapy plan will be determined by the type and size of the tumor, as well as other factors.

Why it's done

Breast cancer radiation is sometimes used to eliminate a tumor, prevent cancer recurrence or both. In some cases, it is given as a palliative treatment to relieve symptoms caused by cancer.

Our approach

At Northwell Health Cancer Institute, a variety of breast cancer radiation therapies are used to destroy cancer cells and slow tumor growth. With improved imaging, delivery systems and verification systems, we are able to deliver higher doses of radiation to more localized areas to produce better outcomes with reduced damage to nearby healthy tissue. These include therapies using the most precise radiosurgery devices available.

Breast cancer radiation therapy treatment is provided in a caring and professional environment by staff that is dedicated to making each patient visit as informative and stress-free as possible. This begins with an in-depth conversation describing the treatment, including what to expect, possible side effects and goals. The personalized treatment also includes careful consideration of current health, family history, age and patient preferences.

All radiation therapies are administered using evidence-based medicine. A multidisciplinary team of doctors, including radiologists, surgeons, pathologists, medical oncologists and radiology oncologists, collaborates on treatment plans to ensure that every aspect of treatment is precisely coordinated for the best possible outcome. This includes ongoing peer review and chart rounds.

Because convenience is a priority, we offer multiple locations for radiation therapy to enable you to obtain treatment near where you live or work. 


Types of radiation therapies for breast cancer include:

The therapy that is chosen depends on the size and location of your tumor. In some cases, multiple forms of radiation therapy may be used.

Research at Northwell

Advances in breast cancer radiation therapy are continuously happening at Northwell Cancer Institute. With innovations in radiation therapy technology and techniques, we continue to improve outcomes. Through alliances with leading research organization Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, we participate in investigator-initiated trials to offer the most leading-edge therapies to patients. 

Northwell Health Cancer Institute is recognized worldwide for its commitment to providing pioneering treatment for cancer patients. The ongoing focus on improving cancer treatments has contributed to significant advancements that are improving the quality of lives and increasing the number of cancer survivors.

Learn more about clinical trials and research happening at Northwell Health Cancer Institute.

What to expect

External beam breast cancer radiation therapy is given from a machine outside your body. In some cases, intra-operative radiation therapy is used by placing radioactive sources into the tumor. This is called brachytherapy.

Your therapy regimen will consist of a set number of treatments over a scheduled period of time that is determine by your radiation oncologist.

Possible side effects

Side effects of breast cancer radiation therapies include:

  • Fatigue
  • Swelling of the breast
  • Redness or skin discoloration
  • Pain or burning in the skin
  • Blistering or peeling of the skin

Most side effects usually go away after treatment ends. However, you may feel very tired for four to six weeks after your last treatment. Talk to your doctor about ways to treat potential side effects.

Support groups

Cancer is challenging, but you don’t have to go it alone. At Northwell Health Cancer Institute, a wide range of support groups are available to help you cope with diagnosis, treatment and post-treatment issues.

Learn more about support groups.

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