Breast Cancer: Whole Breast Radiation Therapy

Whole breast radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to treat the entire breast affected by cancer. Treatments are given once daily, over a period of three to seven weeks. Each treatment lasts about 15 to 30 minutes. The number of treatments needed depends on many things, including features of the breast cancer and the individual woman's body.


3D-Conformal Radiation Therapy


3D-conformal radiation therapy is a type of external radiation therapy. This treatment is delivered using a machine called a linear accelerator. High-energy X-ray beams from these machines are aimed at the breast from outside the body. For many women receiving whole-breast radiation therapy, 3D-conformal radiation therapy is the recommended treatment.


Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy


Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is an advanced form of external radiation therapy that treats breast cancer from several angles. The treatment changes the size, shape and intensity of the radiation beam to match the size, shape and location of the area being treated.


This method is increasingly used for various types of tumors because it can deliver high, effective doses of radiation to the tumor and limits radiation to normal tissue. This reduces the chance of side effects; however, IMRT may not be preferred over more standard external beam treatment. Your radiation oncologist will explain the treatment that is recommended for you.


UW Health uses some of the most sophisticated, IMRT-delivery machines, including Tomotherapy, TrueBeam and ViewRay.


Image-Guided Radiation Therapy


Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) uses radiology scans such as CT and MRI to identify parts of the body that need to be treated. These scans are used before each treatment to focus the radiation to the cancer cells, and they are almost always used with intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). Used together, IGRT and IMRT can produce very precise treatments that limit radiation to normal tissue.


UW Health has three types of machines for IGRT: Tomotherapy, TrueBeam and ViewRay. Tomotherapy and TrueBeam use CT scans to guide the radiation. ViewRay uses MRI scans to guide the radiation during delivery. UW Health was the second cancer center in the country to use ViewRay.