- Question from Jen315: What are the long-term effects of radiation? I am having a lot of anxiety re: late effects, combined with anxiety of a recurrence.
Lydia Komarnicky, M.D.
Long-term side effects from radiation that I usually tell my patients about include the possibility of a small scar on the lung which is infrequent and asymptomatic—in other words, no symptoms. Another long-term side effect may be that the ribs on the treatment side may become more fragile and a small fracture can result. This is also not frequent.
Radiation oncologists, as part of their initial treatment plan, try to avoid the lungs and heart at all costs. But even the best treatment plan will incorporate a small sliver of the lung in the treatment field.
In the 18 years I've been practicing, I've only seen about four patients with a fracture of the ribs. A very small percentage of patients may develop a cancer related to radiation, and I've only seen two to three during the whole course of my career. So, certainly, the benefits of radiation outweigh these long-term side effects.
Marisa C. Weiss, M.D.
The treated breast does tend to stay a little perkier than the other side. Some women say it looks a little bit more youthful. Ten years after breast radiation, if you're standing naked in front of the mirror, the untreated side usually hangs lower than the treated side. In a bra, you usually look pretty even.
As we grow older, we also tend to gain weight naturally. The treated breast may not gain as much weight as the untreated side. This can accentuate any asymmetry that you may already have.
These are very subtle long-term effects, but you may notice them. We tend to be focused on a lot of the little things that can happen to our bodies, and it's always easier when you know what to expect. But, again, many of the changes that Dr. Komarnicky mentioned are uncommon, and your doctor checks for them when you go back for your follow-up visits. If you notice anything that's new or different about your body, and you're concerned about it, bring it to your doctor's attention.
On Wednesday, March 17, 2004, our Ask-the-Expert Online Conference was called Radiation Therapy Updates. Lydia T. Komarnicky, M.D. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answered your questions about advances in radiation therapy: the newest and best techniques, combining radiation therapy with other treatments, ways to manage, reduce or eliminate side effects, and more.
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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