The association between radiation and breast cancer is contradictory and unsettling. Radiation can be a lifesaver in diagnosing and treating breast cancer patients. Concurrently, overexposure to radiation may elevate breast cancer risk in female radiologic professionals. This duality underscores the importance of precise, cautious medical radiation usage.
Ionizing radiation is an established carcinogenic agent. Vulnerable breast tissue is highly radiosensitive. The paramount ALARA principle prescribes that occupational radiation exposure be kept as low as reasonably achievable. Wearing radiation-protective lead aprons helps prevent female healthcare workers from joining the unfortunate ranks of the 13% of U.S. women diagnosed with breast cancer.
Understanding Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy for breast cancer employs high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. It may be indicated in the early stages of cancer or after metastasis to other areas.
Modern radiation therapy is incredibly accurate, sparing healthy tissue and minimizing side effects. The use of radiotherapy depends on the breast cancer stage at diagnosis:
- Curative Radiotherapy: It is the primary course of treatment to cure the cancer completely. For instance, breast carcinoma is radio curative when detected very early.
- Neo-Adjuvant Radiotherapy: It enhances the effectiveness of subsequent therapies. Sometimes, chemotherapy and surgery are more effective after radiation for breast cancer.
- Adjuvant Radiotherapy: It is used after other treatments to prevent the cancer from returning. For example, breast cancer recurrence after a lumpectomy and radiation is lower than with surgery alone.
- Palliative Radiotherapy: It may lessen symptoms if a cure is impossible. Shrinking tumors may relieve pain, stabilize bone structures, and enhance mobility.
Types of Radiation Therapy
Breast cancer radiotherapy forms part of an overall treatment plan to ensure the best outcome with the least invasive approach. A radiation oncologist collaborates with a multidisciplinary group that includes medical physicists and dosimetrists. They carefully calculate the radiation doses and delivery schedule to optimize safety and efficacy. This therapy team selects from three radiation therapy categories based on the tumor’s type, size, and location, along with the patient’s unique characteristics and requirements.
1. External Beam Radiotherapy (EBRT)
- External apparatus emits radiation beams focused on the tumor while minimizing exposure to healthy surrounding tissues.
- EBRT is typically administered in multiple treatment sessions over days or weeks, depending on the cancer type, size, location, and treatment plan.
2. Intraoperative Radiation Therapy (IORT)
- During surgery, the tumor is exposed and excised if possible.
- A specialized radiation applicator is positioned directly within or very close to the tumor site.
- This delivers a single, high radiation dose to the tumor site, the tumor bed, or both.
- IORT spares selected patients the need for several weeks of postoperative radiotherapy.
3. Brachytherapy or Internal Radiation
- A radiation source is placed directly inside or close to the tumor site.
- This takes the form of radioactive seeds, wires, or catheters.
- It delivers a highly concentrated dose of radiation directly into the tumor.
Linking Breast Cancer to Radiation
The major risk factors for breast cancer are things you can’t change, such as genetics and breast tissue density. However, some factors are external, including exposure to ionizing radiation.
Two types of events link breast cancer and radiation:
1. Medical Radiation Exposure
- Radiotherapy to treat other cancers in the chest area raises the chance of future breast cancer. For example, this can happen years after Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment.
- Diagnostic X-rays, such as mammograms for breast cancer screening, are of great benefit. However, frequent or unnecessary diagnostic exposure may increase cumulative effects and long-term risks.
2. Occupational or Environmental Exposure
- People working with nuclear energy and radiation, or in high radiation environments are at risk. Cumulative doses can push a person over the threshold limit.
- Medical professionals working with radiation constitute a large group who may be at risk of occupational exposure. This group includes radiation therapists who work closely with cancer patients.
The Importance of Lead Aprons in Radiation Protection
Lead aprons are vital personal protective equipment (PPE) designed to shield the breast tissue of female medical workers during radiation therapy for patients.
Here are three reasons to wear a lead apron:
1. Shielding Against Ionizing Radiation
Female medical practitioners may be exposed to scattered or secondary radiation while providing radiation therapy to their patients. A well-designed lead or lead equivalent apron covers 75% of the body and protects radiosensitive breast tissue.
2. Minimizing Occupational Exposure
Medical workers often have long careers in healthcare, and cumulative radiation exposure can pose health risks over time. Lead aprons help limit this exposure to safe levels, reducing the risk of radiation-related health issues, including breast cancer.
3. Improving Patient Care
Healthcare professionals should feel confident that they have adequate shielding from the hazards of ionizing radiation. Removing this anxiety allows them to focus their undivided attention on delivering the best possible care to their patients.
Choosing a Lead Apron for Radiation Therapy
There is a glaring lack of research into the risks faced by women working in radiology. However, the connection between radiation treatment and breast cancer is starting to receive long overdue consideration. According to a recent editorial in the BMJ, “Female health workers need better radiation protection to minimize breast cancer risk.” Many lead aprons do not adequately accommodate the female form and gape at the armholes, leaving the armpits and upper outer quadrants of the breasts exposed.
Barrier Technologies® emphasizes the importance of proper fit when selecting a lead apron. Our ingenious, versatile designs have built-in adjustable elastic inserts, shoulder and back straps, and supportive belts to ensure your apron conforms to your body shape. We offer several style options, including frontal, wraparound, and vest and skirt sets. Try our revolutionary online X-Ray Apron Sizer from the App Store or Google Play to ensure that you get adequate breast coverage.
Barrier Technologies: Providing Effective Radiation Protection
Barrier Technologies understands the delicate balance between radiation therapy and breast cancer management. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that female radiologic healthcare workers need improved protection from the carcinogenic properties of radiation.
Let us alleviate your fears if you’re concerned about radiation and breast cancer. We’re committed to providing cutting-edge products that safeguard you against hazardous radiation. Our dedicated team consistently conducts research and development to enhance safety measures for your protection. The challenges encountered by our valued clients guide our ongoing search for groundbreaking solutions.
We appreciate all your input and queries. Contact us for outstanding customer service and expert advice.