Radiation treatment

Radiation treatment is the use of radiation beams to destroy cancer cells or slow their growth. Radiation treatment only affects the part of the body that the beams are aimed at.

To read more about how radiation treatment works, go to the Radiation Treatment/Haumanu Iraruke section on our website.

When is radiation treatment offered?

Radiation treatment is usually recommended:

• after breast-conserving surgery to reduce the risk of cancer coming back

• after or even before a mastectomy, if there is a significant risk of the cancer returning on your chest wall

• if there were cancer cells in the lymph nodes under your armpit – radiation treatment may be given to this area.

linear accelerator

A linear accelerator (pictured) is used to deliver radiation treatment.

How radiation treatment is given

External beam radiation treatment is given from outside the body by a machine called a linear accelerator. This is the most commonly used type of radiation treatment for breast cancer.

Treatment is usually given daily, for five days each week, for a period of three to five weeks. The machine is on for only a few minutes and the total amount of time spent in the treatment room is usually 10 to 20 minutes. Treatment is carefully planned to do as little harm as possible to your normal body tissue. The length of treatment will depend on the size and type of the cancer and on your general health.


Where radiation treatment is provided

Radiation treatment is available at specialist treatment centres in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. If you need to be away from home for your treatment, help may be available for transport and accommodation costs through the National Travel Assistance Scheme.

Your treatment centre, hospital social workers, the travel office at your local DHB or your local Cancer Society can advise you on what help may be available. Or go to the Ministry of Health website here.


Side effects of radiation treatment

People react in different ways to treatment. These are the common side effects that you may experience:

• fatigue can occur during and after treatment

• there may be discomfort, as your breast may swell and become firmer

• the skin in the area being treated, may become red and dry

• very occasionally, your skin may become more inflamed and blister or weep.

You may require a dressing and some treatment centres provide Mepitel film to help protect the area being treated.

Go here to find out how to manage side effects.