Radiation and long-term consequences?

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Question from Allen: Does radiation to the breast cause any long-term consequences?
Answers - Marisa Weiss, M.D. Radiation to the breast can be associated with both short-term and some long-term effects. These can include persistent firmness, heaviness, and tenderness of the breast. The breast can be rounder and sit higher than it used to. The ribcage directly under the breast area is slightly more likely to experience a fracture if someone hits you or you fall down. The risk of this is only 1% to 2%, though, and the ribs should heal normally. There is also a very small risk of scar tissue occurring in the lung directly under the chest wall. It's unlikely for this to cause any symptoms, but it can show up on a chest x-ray.

Old radiation therapy techniques were associated with a slightly increased risk of heart disease for women treated for breast cancer on the left side. However, with modern technology using three-dimensional treatment planning, and a doctor who embraces this new technique, the heart should be excluded from treatment fields. As a result, there should be no increased risk of heart problems. Radiation therapy given to the lymph node region can add to your risk of lymphedema on the arm of that side.

You can learn more about this important subject in the Breastcancer.org Radiation Therapy section.

The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Managing Treatment Side Effects featured Julie Gralow, M.D. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answering your questions about many of the short-term and long-term side effects of breast cancer treatment, and ways of minimizing them, so you can get on with your life and enjoy your day-to-day activities.

Editor's Note: This conference took place in January 2003.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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