In 1896, Wilhem Conrad Roentgen (a German physics professor) presented a lecture introducing the x-ray. There was immediate worldwide excitement and systems were quickly developed to utilize this new technology and within three years x-rays were being used to treat cancer. The American Cancer Society (2014) describes that it was common for early radiologists use themselves to test the strength of the radiation coming from machines.
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They would use the skin on their arms to find a dosage that would produce a sunburn like reaction. This was called the “erythema dose” and was used as an estimate of the daily fraction to treat patients. This testing led to the discovery that radiation could cause cancer as many of these radiologists developed leukemia from the regular radiation exposure. Thankfully, methods and machines for delivering radiation therapy have continued to improve. Today there are many different techniques to delivery radiation therapy including external beam radiation, brachytherapy (internal radiation), and intraoperative radiation. The goal of radiation therapy is to treat the cancerous area while protecting healthy tissues and organs. This paper will explore the use of external beam radiation therapy for patients with breast cancer. In 2018 there will be an estimated 268,670 new cases of breast cancer – 266,120 for women and 2,550 for men (Siegel, Miller, & Jemal, 2018).
Among women, this represents the largest number of new cases and the second leading cause of cancer death. According to the American Cancer Society (2017), external beam radiation is the most common type of radiation treatment for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society (2017) outlines common situations in which external beam radiation therapy is used:
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