Radiation and surgery for advanced breast cancer

Breast cancer

Local treatment for advanced breast cancer

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses x-rays and other forms of radiation (such as high-energy electrons) to destroy cancer cells. It is used to treat one area of the body at a time.

Radiation therapy can be particularly helpful in relieving pain and other symptoms in the bones, parts of the brain and the skin. Depending on the part of the body being treated, radiation can cause the following side effects:

  • tiredness
  • skin reactions
  • nausea and vomiting.

Radiation therapy is usually given as short treatments as an outpatient. 

Stereotactic ablative radiation (SABR) is a new technique that is being used in advanced breast cancer to treat small, well-defined tumours that have spread to the brain, spine or lung. The technique delivers a high dose of radiation precisely to the tumour, without affecting the surrounding healthy organs. There is limited availability of this treatment in New Zealand, please talk to your radiation oncologist for more information. 

Watch our webinar on radiation side effects

Watch our webinar: “Managing chemo and radiation side effects” which provides helpful tips to manage the side effects of radiation treatment to help boost your quality of life.


Surgery is not commonly used in ABC. This is because the cancer isn’t usually confined to one area. But it can be used in some situations:

  • to strengthen a weakened bone – such as the hip or leg
  • very occasionally to remove a small metastatic cancer in a single area of the body, such as the liver or lung, or for the removal of a large tumour in the breast
  • to remove a single or small number of tumours in the brain as per New Zealand’s ABC Guidelines.

Surgery will be carried out by a specialist surgeon in that area.