Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer Blog

From breastfeeding to being diagnosed with breast cancer and then back to breastfeeding. This is an account of my experiences.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Radiation Decision

I have some concerns about the long term effects of radiation therapy.  Radiation therapy is the standard of care for someone like me who had a lumpectomy.  But I am 34 years old and I hope to live many, many more years.  I searched and I could not find good information about the potential long term effects.

One thing that is good is that it is my right breast. If it were my left breast, my heart would probably receive some radiation which could lead to problems down the road. In my situation a partial mastectomy followed by radiation would be considered the same treatment as a full mastectomy. 

Early on in my research I discovered that radiation targets active cells.  Lactating breasts are very active and that radiation might actually damage the breast more if I was lactating.

Some people believe with radiation that one is able to “keep their breast.” After being surgically altered and radiated, it’s really quite different than before and not functional in the same way.

In order to help make my decision, I sought the opinions of two radiation oncologists.  Both assured me that radiation would be an acceptable decision for me.  I actually went through the planning session with one of them and had a CAT scan and received my tattoos.  Black Indiana ink is injected just under the skin marking where the CAT scan and later the radiation machine should line up.  The black ink appears as small blue dots.  My radiation oncologist was able to show me where the radiation field would be, which part of my lungs would be hit, which ribs, etc.  

Initially I felt I would just have a mastectomy and be done.  That would give me simple and straightforward surgery with a very short hospital stay.  I could get back to my family and be done.  It's interesting to me that many woman have gut reactions when they are diagnosed to just go ahead and have a double mastectomy.  I never felt that way.  As I started to really consider a mastectomy, I felt I probably would feel better getting some sort of reconstruction.

In order to complete my research, I decided to meet with a couple plastic surgeons.  If I really wanted to compare my options, I should know what my options are.  The first plastic surgeon offered me an implant.  The second offered microsurgery of a flap of my thigh to create a new breast mound.

Part of my thinking brings me to the end result and not the process and what I'd like to be done and I usually come to the surgery. The process does not sound great, but the end result should be a better outcome in terms of cancer for me. 

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