Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

The radiation oncologists at Fox Chase Cancer Center specialize in treating breast cancer using the latest radiation therapies. Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells and may be given in combination with chemotherapy for those who are unable to tolerate surgery or in combination with chemotherapy and surgery for patients with invasive breast cancer.

External beam radiation therapy delivers the radiation from a machine outside the body.

Internal radiation, implant radiation or brachytherapy involves placing radioactive material in a catheter inserted directly into the breast. The catheter remains in the breast for up to one week before it is removed.

3-Dimensional Conformal Radiation Therapy, or 3D-CRT, a type of external beam radiation therapy developed at Fox Chase to precisely target tumors and avoid healthy tissue, may offer a better outcome for some patients with breast cancer.


Recent advances in brachytherapy allow doctors to provide radiation to the breast tumor rather than irradiating the whole breast. Brachytherapy with MammoSite™ takes 5-7 days instead of up to 7 weeks that external radiation can require.

During this procedure, seeds are placed near the tumor in a temporary balloon, which is placed either during a lumpectomy or after surgery using ultrasound. Placement takes only 10-20 minutes and is performed with a local anesthetic without the need for stitches.

The radioactive material is placed into the balloon twice a day for 5 days, and each treatment takes only 5 minutes. Apart from these times, the balloon is not radioactive. After the last treatment, the balloon is deflated and easily removed from the breast. Doctors are continuing to study this technique to determine whether it is as effective as external beam therapy for treating breast cancer.

Radiation of the Reconstructed Breast

After reconstructive surgery, radiation must be performed with expert care. Radiation oncologists at Fox Chase take special measures to make the radiation as safe as possible for these women and have extensive experience treating women with either saline implants or muscle transfer reconstructions.

Fox Chase physicians have reported some of the best results in the nation with radiation in this setting: our patients have low risk of serious complications and excellent cosmetic results.

Radiation for Large Breast Sizes

Women with large breasts require more radiation during treatment because of the larger treatment area. Historically, these women were denied breast conserving therapy because doctors worried they could not tolerate the side effects of radiation (peeling skin, breast pain, fibrosis or skin discoloration).

At Fox Chase, our doctors have special techniques to reduce the side effects of radiation in women with large or pendulous (severely drooping) breasts. We routinely use 3D planning, modified higher energy radiation beams, custom support bras during treatment, and the most advanced IMRT to improve the distribution of radiation throughout a large breast. These measures all further reduce the side effects in these women.