Breast Cancer Awareness: Radiation Oncology Changes

Local News

JOPLIN, Mo. — As Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes to a close — a note about radiation therapy. The treatment has a few myths surrounding it, but doctors say technology has made the experience much better than it used to be.

“As we get older, we’re more likely to get cancer. That hasn’t changed,” said Dr. Chance Matthiesen, Radiation Oncologist, Medical Director.

Dr. Chance Matthiesen at Freeman Health System says that’s still true for the most common cancers, like prostate cancer and breast cancer.

“In the generation that now is starting to more likely to develop cancer, they likely had some personal experience with cancer from someone from probably 20 years ago… 20 to 30 years ago even,” said Dr. Matthiesen.

And because of that — the generation most likely to get cancer these days probably heard some horror stories about radiation treatment.

“Radiation, back then, historically was not viewed favorably. Lots of people would walk away and say, ‘Don’t ever do radiation.’ Or terms like, ‘It just burnt me up.’ Or, ‘I was doing okay until I did that,'” said Dr. Matthiesen.

But a lot has changed over the last two or three decades.

“The treatment techniques were a lot more primitive. The side effects were a lot worse. And, depending on where the patient was treated, you know, radiation doesn’t literally burn anybody. But the reactions from radiation can mimic what people associate with burns,” said Dr. Matthiesen.

Dr. Matthiesen explains technology improvements — and the ability to harness those improvements properly — have been monumental in helping minimize fear, myths, and stigmas surrounding radiation treatment.

“I would say approximately half the patients that are treated in this clinic probably experience minimal to zero side effects,” said Dr. Matthiesen.

And that’s huge — because the percentage of people with side effects used to be much more common — well into the 90% range. Technology has also helped the length of treatment — standard treatment for breast cancer, for example, used to be 6 to 8 weeks of daily radiation therapy.

“Now, I would say at least half of my patients with early stage breast cancer are treated in three weeks. And, often, at the end of those three weeks, other than a little bit of a mild rash on the chest area, that’s all we really see,” said Dr. Matthiesen.

Above all – Dr. Matthiesen doesn’t want patients to be afraid of radiation.

“Radiation therapy is one of the most powerful tools we have in the fight against cancer,” said Dr. Matthiesen.

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