My Experiences With Brain Radiation
Last updated: October 2023
A diagnosis of advanced breast cancer is scary on its own, but what happens when the breast cancer takes up residence in your brain?
My history with metastatic breast cancer
My cancer moved to my brain 3 years ago, and I remember crying all day and thinking my life was over. I was sure I'd be dead within months. Thanks to whole brain radiation, I have been clear of any cancer in my brain for over 2 years.
Have you undergone brain radiation?
Going through brain radiation therapy
In case you are unaware of what whole brain radiation therapy is, it is targeted radiation at both cancer and regular brain cells. This means all the cells in your brain will receive the radiation.
Reviewing scans with the oncologist
Before you start whole brain radiation, you will see a radiation oncologist who will review your previous doctor's notes, tests, and scans. Next, you will go through what is called "mapping."
Radiation mapping and the mask
First, you will receive a CT scan to decide how they want to distribute the radiation through your brain. Then, the not-so-fun part, the mask.
A radiation mask holds you entirely still while you are receiving radiation. It makes sense because you don't want to move even a little bit to limit damage to any healthy tissue in the brain. Everyone's mask is different and made to fit your head precisely.
Fitting the mesh sheet
Next, the tech will gently heat a plastic mesh sheet over your face. It sounds scary, but it was quick. I pictured myself getting a warm facial, which helped.
After the warm mesh is stretched to conform to your face, it is bolted to the table, and you will lay there until it's dry and hardened. After that, you are ready to start your radiation sessions.
Radiation treatment varies
Radiation sessions vary on the amount of treatments you will have. I had 10 treatments for 10 days. Each session was about 5 minutes at the most. I thought they were very easy, even with the mask, and I am claustrophobic.
Now, some doctors will prescribe a steroid to quell brain swelling from the radiation. I've also heard of doctors prescribing medication to help protect the part of the brain responsible for memory and to prevent seizures. I never had that, but I did take steroids.
Common side effects of brain radiation
For me, the side effects of whole brain radiation were a bad headache, exhaustion, hair loss, mild depression, dizziness, hearing loss, and memory issues. Most of those side effects went away in about 5 months after treatment.
According to the American Cancer Society, common side effects from brain radiation include:1
- Hair loss
- Hearing loss
- Changes in the scalp
- Trouble with memory and speech
As always, speak to your doctor about any side effects or issues you may have while undergoing radiation.
While receiving treatment, ensure you drink lots of water, rest, and eat small nutritious snacks or meals at least 3 times daily. Doing these things helps keep your energy up a little.
There's no denying, it can be scary
I know it all sounds super scary, and I won't lie and say it is not, but you will see that it is not as nerve-wracking if you are prepared.
If you have received whole brain radiation treatment, what are some side effects you experienced, and how did you help relieve them?
Have you been successful in getting financial assistance to help with your medical costs?