Radiation timing

Lawrence J. Solin, MD, FACR
Last Modified: April 21, 2002

Question:

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"
My wife has been diagnosed with breast cancer and I have read where radiation treatment should commence within 3 to 4 weeks after a lumpectomy is performed. How critical is the 3 to 4 week window? If it is started can it be suspended for a week and then resumed? We have reservations to see Mickey and Minnie and her mental health is at stake.

Answer:

Lawrence J. Solin, MD, FACR, Professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

The timing (interval) to start radiation needs to consider two issues. First, the patient needs to be healed from the surgery before starting radiation, and in general, most patients are healed by the second or third week after surgery. Second, radiation should be started reasonably soon thereafter to maximize the benefit of radiation, and in general, intervals of up to 7 or 8 weeks can be acceptable, depending on the individual patient circumstances.

Once radiation treatments are started, these should be given continuously without break, unless the patient is having a complication from the treatment. Treatment breaks, especially if prolonged, can reduce the effectiveness of radiation.

Most travel arrangements (e.g., airplane and hotel reservations) can be changed (or sometimes canceled) without penalty provided that these arrangements were made prior to the diagnosis of cancer. A letter from the responsible physician is generally sufficient for this purpose.

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