Breast Cancer in men

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy is given, where appropriate, to reduce the risk of a recurrence of breast cancer. Radiotherapy uses high energy rays to destroy cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells. Treatment is given regularly – normally for about fifteen session (or fractions) on consecutive days with a break over the weekend. It normally required you to come to the hospital for each session, and then go home again.
 
Here men talk about their experiences of radiotherapy and its side effects.
 
Radiotherapy is usually given if there is a risk of the cancer coming back in the chest. Some men were recommended radiotherapy because cancer had been detected in their lymph nodes or because of the grade and size of their tumour. A few men had been given radiotherapy as a precaution.
A few men said they knew very little about radiotherapy before their treatment began. They explained that while the treatment itself did not take long, the preparation to set up the treatment before each session often took much longer.
One man had had the relatively unusual experience of having chemotherapy in his own home because he had been having treatment privately. It wasn’t possible for him to also have his radiotherapy at home, and inevitably he experienced some waiting around for his radiotherapy appointments.
A few men had to travel considerable distances for their radiotherapy and some found it difficult or frustrating to make changes to their daily lives in order to attend their radiotherapy sessions. A few men felt well enough to travel to the hospital on public transport. John was taken to the hospital by ambulance car so that he could be there for 7am. Tom had said it could be difficult to make plans for later in the morning because quite often the equipment needed attention and appointments could be delayed.
Several men described having very positive experiences of radiotherapy and they were surprised that they had not suffered any side effects. A few men continued to work throughout their treatment. Dan said that work had been a helpful distraction during his treatment. Tom changed his working hours to start earlier in the day so that he could attend his daily radiotherapy treatment in the afternoon.
Most men, however, experienced some side effects from the treatment. A few described ‘minor’ side effects, such as redness and a burning sensation on their skin. Some experienced multiple and more severe side effects, such as tiredness and burns. Michael said he found it tiring and felt a ‘bit microwaved’. He said his chest hair look ‘a bit like a moth-eaten rug’. Most men talked about being advised to apply aqueous cream to the affected area of skin, which they said had helped. One man hadn’t known that he should apply the cream from the first day of his treatment and his skin had become very red. A few men talked about the longer term effects of radiotherapy, such as not being able to expose the affected area of their skin to the sun.
One man who had had a bilateral mastectomy only needed to have radiotherapy on one side of his chest. This side was still darker and he had been told that he would always need to be careful about exposing the affected area to the sun.
Mike C had experienced a third degree burn from his radiotherapy. The burn itself had been like a dry scald and painful. Unfortunately, the burn made him more susceptible to infection and he picked up an MRSA infection which continued to cause him problems. Two men experienced more serious complications between radiotherapy treatments (a severe urine infection and a heart attack), but these were not directly caused by the radiotherapy.
While describing their radiotherapy treatment, a number of men praised the hospital staff.
Often when people go to the hospital for a course of radiotherapy they may see the same patients on many occasions. A few men talked about seeing the same people every time in the waiting room who were also having treatment and they were able to support each other. David C said he became friendly with other patients that were there at the same time. They could have ‘pleasant chat’ and encourage each other.

Several of the other cancer sites on Healthtalkonline, including the site on ‘Breast Cancer in Women’, also describe people’s experiences of having radiotherapy.

Last reviewed October 2013.
Last updated October 2013.

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