Radiation vs. Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

Chemotherapy and radiation are often used in the treatment of breast cancer, but work differently. As a patient, you are an important member of your health care team, being your own advocate can seriously impact treatment and recovery. With that said, it’s important to understand the therapies in your treatment plan. Keep reading to learn the basics about radiation vs chemotherapy for breast cancer treatment, so you can feel equipped to talk with doctors and surgeons about your treatment plan.

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Two Therapies, Same Cancer Killing Goal

Both chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer treatment and share the same goal: kill cancer cells and slow the growth of cancer. Although they have similar goals, they accomplish this in different ways and have different indications:

  • Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment, which means that it works throughout the body.
  • Radiation therapy treats a specific area of the body, also known as a local treatment.
Woman undergoing radiation treatment for her breast cancer.
Woman undergoing radiation treatment for her breast cancer.

Depending on your specific cancer and other factors, your care team may recommend only one of those treatments or both chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It is important to remember that radiation cannot replace chemotherapy nor vice versa. Let’s take a closer look at each type of therapy.

Although everyone experiences treatment differently, both chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer can cause side effects. It’s important to understand potential side effects and possible treatments for those effects before therapy so you can be prepared.

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Loma Linda University Cancer Center
11234 Anderson St, Suite A600, Loma Linda, CA 92354
909-558-2262
Loma Linda University Health – Beaumont – Banning
Oncology
81 South Highland Springs Ave., Suite 201, Beaumont, CA 92223
909-558-2262
Loma Linda University Health – Beaumont – Banning
Radiation Oncology
81 South Highland Springs Ave., Suite 105, Beaumont, CA 92223
800-496-4966
Loma Linda University Professional Office Building – Murrieta
Oncology Nurse Navigator
28078 Baxter Rd., Suite 130, Murrieta, CA 92563
951-290-4148
Loma Linda University Professional Office Building – Murrieta
Radiation Oncology
28078 Baxter Rd., Suite 130, Murrieta, CA 92563
951-290-4162
Loma Linda University Professional Office Building – Murrieta
Women's Diagnostic Imaging Center
28078 Baxter Rd., Suite 220, Murrieta, CA 92563
951-290-4860
Loma Linda University Professional Office Building – Murrieta
Faculty Surgical Oncology Medical Offices
28078 Baxter Rd., Suite 510, Murrieta, CA 92563
909-558-2262
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Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

Chemotherapy works by delivering special medication that travels throughout the body killing cancer cells. It’s usually given to patients through injection into a vein. Many different types of chemotherapy drugs are used for breast cancer. There are even targeted chemotherapies for specific types of cancer. Your doctor will choose the drug or combination of drugs for treatment based on your type and stage of cancer, age, overall health and other factors. .

It’s common to receive a combination of chemotherapy drugs because each drug works in a slightly different way to combat cancer. What’s more, using more than one drug reduces the likelihood your body will become resistant to the therapy.

Chemotherapy is often used in addition to other therapies such as surgery, radiation or other types of drugs including targeted therapies or immunotherapy. Chemotherapy may be given before surgery or after surgery depending on a number of factors including your type and stage of cancer, age, overall health and other factors. Chemotherapy can help kill any remaining cancer cells throughout the body and reduces the likelihood of cancer recurring in other parts of the body.

Medical oncologists at Loma Linda University Cancer Center’s Breast Health Center work as part of a multidisciplinary team to create a unique treatment plan for each patient. If they recommend chemotherapy for breast cancer treatment, your oncologist will decide on the type of drugs, dosage and frequency for treatment. The Cancer Center’s state-of-the-art infusion center allows patients to receive chemotherapy for breast cancer in a supportive, compassionate facility close to home.

Other Drugs for Breast Cancer Treatment

The Breast Health Center also provides new types of drugs to fight cancer besides standard chemotherapy for breast cancer. These include targeted therapy and immunotherapy.

  • Targeted therapy works by finding specific proteins or receptors on cancer cells and then precisely targeting those receptors. This allows the drug to kill cancer cells while avoiding damage to healthy cells.
  • Immunotherapy is an advanced type of drug that boosts a patient’s immune system, helping it recognize and attack the cancer.

These advanced therapies are available at the Breast Health Center, centrally located in the Inland Empire. Talk to your doctor about how targeted therapy and immunotherapy may complement your breast cancer treatment.

Radiation for Breast Cancer

Radiation for breast cancer treatment is a local treatment and works by using high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. It is most often used after breast surgery to reduce the chance the cancer will come back locally in the breast or armpit. Radiation can also be used to target other areas of the body that breast cancer may have spread to.

The Breast Health Center at Loma Linda University Cancer Center is one of the few centers in the United States that offers proton therapy for breast cancer patients. Proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation for breast cancer treatment. This noninvasive therapy is an accurate more focused than any other forms of external beam available today for early-stage breast cancer. Because this type of radiation for breast cancer pinpoints and targets the specific area needing treatment, it protects surrounding tissues and organs and reduces unnecessary side effects.

Patient navigators are registered nurses trained in oncology care to guide you through the challenges of dealing with cancer. They are here to support you as you go through diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Contact the Patient Navigator team at 800-782-2623.

Chemotherapy and Radiation for Breast Cancer: Understanding Side Effects

Although everyone experiences treatment differently, both chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer can cause side effects. It’s important to understand potential side effects and treatments of those effects before treatment therapy so you can be prepared.

The side effects of chemotherapy for breast cancer vary greatly depending on what drug is used. Common side effects include:

  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Lower blood cell count
  • Nausea

Keep in mind not all chemotherapies cause these side effects. And not everyone experiences them to the same degree.

Side effects of radiation for breast cancer may include:

  • Dry, inflamed skin at the radiation site
  • Fatigue

Before treatment, talk to your doctor about potential side effects and how you can help reduce or manage them.

Remember, chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer care are designed to help you fight your cancer. But there is a lot to learn. Ask your breast cancer team about your therapy. The more you understand, the better prepared you will be.