During partial breast radiation, only the tumor site gets treatment.(IMAGE SOURCE/CORBIS)Radiation therapy is very good at reducing the odds of cancer striking again in the treated breast. Following lumpectomy alone, a patient typically "has roughly a 30% to 40% risk of breast cancer coming back in the same breast, depending on the size of the tumor and the histology [grade]," says Dennis E. Hallahan, MD, chairman of the department of radiation oncology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "Surgery with radiation reduces that risk down to 10% over the course of a lifetime."
Newer, experimental techniques called partial breast radiation involve treating only the cancer site, not the entire breast. Research on patients who didn't get radiation treatment showed that 85% to 90% of cases of breast cancer recurrences happened near the location of the first tumor.
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"Instead of giving the whole breast radiation and putting a patient through the extra toxicity, why not just give a whopping dose to that area?" asks Janice Kim, MD, a radiation oncologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. If you get partial breast radiation, you'll probably get it twice a day for roughly a week—beating the usual schedule by about five weeks.
You may also be a candidate for MammoSite, in which the radiation is delivered over the course of several days via a small balloon attached to a thin tube inserted directly into the lumpectomy site.