Radiotherapy for breast cancer in men

Radiotherapy treatment uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. It may be given after surgery to reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back. It can also be used to treat secondary breast cancer. Your specialist will explain how radiotherapy works and any possible side effects.

Your treatment will be carefully planned to make sure the radiotherapy rays are aimed precisely at the treatment area. Planning radiotherapy is very important and may take a few appointments.

Radiotherapy is usually given every Monday–Friday for three weeks. Each treatment session takes 10–15 minutes. You will usually have radiotherapy as an outpatient.

Radiotherapy isn’t painful. But you do need to be able to position your arm so that the radiotherapy machine can give the treatment effectively. If your shoulder is stiff, a physiotherapist can show you exercises to help.

Radiotherapy for secondary breast cancer can be given to shrink a cancer and relieve pain. This is called palliative radiotherapy and you will usually have one or two doses.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells. You may be given it to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back in the chest area and in the nearby lymph nodes. You usually start radiotherapy 4–6 weeks after surgery unless you have chemotherapy.


Radiotherapy after surgery

Some men may need radiotherapy after a mastectomy. Your cancer doctor may advise you to have radiotherapy after mastectomy if:

  • the cancer was large
  • the cancer was high-grade
  • several lymph nodes contain cancer cells
  • there were cancer cells close to the edge of the removed breast tissue.

If you had a wide local excision you will usually need radiotherapy to the area where the cancer was removed.


Radiotherapy to lymph nodes

If some of the lymph nodes from your armpit contain cancer cells, you may have radiotherapy to the rest of the nodes. If you had all the lymph nodes in your armpit removed, you usually won’t need to have radiotherapy to this area.


How it is given

You’ll usually have a course of radiotherapy lasting three weeks. You have the treatment in the hospital radiotherapy department as a series of short, daily sessions. Each treatment takes 10–15 minutes and they are usually given from Monday–Friday, with a rest at the weekend. Your doctor will talk to you about the treatment and possible side effects.

External radiotherapy doesn’t make you radioactive and it’s safe for you to be around other people, including children, after your treatment.

Planning your radiotherapy

Radiotherapy has to be carefully planned to make sure it’s as effective as possible. It’s planned by a cancer specialist (clinical oncologist) and it may take a few visits.

On your first visit to the radiotherapy department, you’ll be asked to have a CT scan or lie under a machine called a simulator, which takes x-rays of the area to be treated.

You may need some small marks made on your skin to help the radiographer (who gives you your treatment) position you accurately and to show where the rays will be directed. These marks must stay visible throughout your treatment, and permanent marks (like tiny tattoos) are usually used. These are extremely small, and will only be done with your permission. It may be a little uncomfortable while they are done.

Positioning

You’ll need to be able to position your arm so that the radiotherapy machine can give the treatment effectively. A physiotherapist can show you exercises to do to make this easier if your muscles and shoulder feel stiff or painful.

Treatment sessions

At the beginning of each session of radiotherapy, the radiographer will position you carefully on the couch and make sure you are comfortable. During your treatment you’ll be alone in the room, but you can talk to the radiographer who will watch you from the next room. Radiotherapy is not painful, but you will have to lie still for a few minutes during the treatment.


Radiotherapy for secondary breast cancer

Radiotherapy can also be used to treat secondary breast cancer. This is called palliative radiotherapy and it can often be given in one or two doses. It’s most often used to treat secondary breast cancer in the bone or skin. It can help to shrink the cancer and relieve pain.

This type of radiotherapy causes very few side effects.

Back to Radiotherapy explained

Who might I meet?

You will meet many different specialists before, during and after radiotherapy treatment.