Whether you are offered radiotherapy depends on your breast cancer and the type of surgery you have
If you have breast conserving surgery
If you have breast conserving surgery, you should be offered radiotherapy to your breast. Research has shown that radiotherapy after breast conserving surgery can halve the risk of your cancer returning, and can improve your chance of survival.
If your breast care team think there is a high risk of your cancer coming back, you may also be offered an extra dose of radiation to the area your tumour was removed from. This is called a breast ‘boost’ and it can reduce the chance of your cancer returning, although it makes it more likely that your breast will change appearance following radiotherapy. You may particularly benefit from a breast boost if you’re under 50.
If breast boost treatment is an option for you, your breast care team will explain the risks and benefits. If there is a very low chance of your cancer coming back, the risks of radiotherapy may outweigh the benefits, and you may choose not to receive radiotherapy.
If you have a mastectomy
If you have a mastectomy, you might be offered radiotherapy to your chest wall (the area behind the breast) if your breast care team think there is a chance of your cancer coming back. This decision will be taken based on the characteristics of your tumour and whether cancer was found in your armpit lymph nodes.
If you have a mastectomy to treat Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS), radiotherapy is usually not necessary.
If your breast cancer has spread to your lymph nodes
If your breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in your armpit, you will be offered either further surgery to remove them, or radiotherapy to your armpit. Research suggests that these treatments are equally effective, but radiotherapy may cause less side effects.
If you have surgery to remove the lymph nodes in your armpit or are given radiotherapy to your armpit, you may also be given radiotherapy to the lymph nodes at the base of your neck or next to your breastbone to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back to these areas of your body.
If you are pregnant
If you are pregnant, any treatment programme must be carefully planned so it does not risk harming your baby. Talk to your breast care team about the options available for you. You should avoid becoming pregnant if you are having radiotherapy.
Breast Cancer Now’s health information is produced following best practice guidelines developed by the Patient Information Forum.
Find out more about how we develop our health information and the Patient Information Forum.