Breast Cancer

Find your care

Radiation oncologists use a patient-centered approach and individualized treatment plans. To learn more and make an appointment with a UCLA radiation oncologist, contact us at:

Westwood - 310-825-9775
Santa Clarita - 661-287-0010
Santa Monica - 424-259-8777
Downtown LA - 213-744-1460

Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

UCLA Multidisciplinary Expert Care

Radiation therapy has a long history in the treatment of breast cancer. It is used in most patients undergoing breast conservation. Breast conservation is the treatment of choice for most early stage breast patients in the U.S. today.

Radiation therapy is also used in patients following mastectomy (breast removal) if certain "high risk" features are identified.

pink bow

In several clinical trials, radiation has been found to not only reduce the chance of local recurrence, but also improve patient survival.

At UCLA there are several techniques available to treat breast cancer.

These techniques include:

Fig. 1: Whole breast radiation therapy
Fig. 1: Whole breast radiation therapy

Whole breast radiation therapy (fig 1)

  • Standard fractionation – 6.5 weeks
  • Hypofractionation – 3-4 weeks

Partial breast irradiation (PBI) (fig 2&3)

  • External Beam
  • Balloon based implant
  • Interstitial needle implant
  • Intraoperative (IORT) – One treatment One day
breast external beam
Fig. 2: Partial breast external beam

Possible Side Effects of Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

Side effects are usually temporary and usually go away shortly after treatment ends. Below is a list of possible side effects you might notice during your treatment. However, ask your doctor what you can expect from your specific treatment.

  • Skin irritation similar to a sunburn, sometimes with a peeling reaction toward the end of treatment.
  • Mild to moderate breast swelling.
  • Mild tenderness in the breast or chest wall. This will slowly get better over time.
  • Mild fatigue that generally gets better a month or two after treatment ends. Many of these side effects can be controlled with medications. Tell your doctor or nurse if you experience any discomfort so they can help you feel better. After the short-term side effects of radiation therapy resolve, others may become noticeable months or years later.
  • Breast firmness or mild shrinkage.
  • Change in skin tone, rarely with fine blood vessels present.
  • Scarring of a small part of the lung just under the breast. Generally, no side effects are noticed but rarely it may cause a dry cough or shortness of breath that is treatable.
  • Mild decreased range of motion.
  • Hand or arm swelling, called lymphedema, can occur but depends upon the extent of surgery and radiation.
  • Heart injury is rare with modern treatment techniques for left-sided breast cancers.
breast image
Fig. 3: Partial breast brachytherapy (Balloon based and Implant based)

Rarely, new tumors can be caused by radiation, but in breast cancer the benefits of treatment should outweigh the risks. Many factors affect your risk for these side effects.

Please talk to your radiation oncologist to learn more about how likely these side effects may be for you.

The following UCLA Radiation Oncologists specialize in treatment of breast cancer:

Joanne B. Weidhaas, MD, PhD, MS

Joanne B. Weidhaas, MD, PhD, MS

Radiation Oncology
Primary Location
Westwood Radiation Oncology
200 Medical Plaza
Suite B265
Los Angeles, California 90095
Areas of Focus
Cancer genetics
Breast cancer
Susan A. McCloskey, MD, MSHS

Susan A. McCloskey, MD, MSHS

Radiation Oncology
Primary Location
Santa Monica Radiation Oncology
1223 16th Street
Suite 1100
Santa Monica, California 90404
John V. Hegde, MD

John V. Hegde, MD

Radiation Oncology
Primary Location
Santa Monica Radiation Oncology
1223 16th Street
Suite 1100
Santa Monica, California 90404
Areas of Focus
Breast cancer
Central nervous system malignancy
Michael L. Steinberg

Michael L. Steinberg, MD

Radiation Oncology
Primary Location
Westwood Radiation Oncology
200 Medical Plaza
Suite B265
Los Angeles, California 90095
Areas of Focus
Metastatic disease
Head and neck cancer
Breast cancer