Breast Feeding During Radiation Therapy

Last Modified: January 27, 2009

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Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

Is it safe to breastfeed your child if you are receiving radiation for 6 weeks for a brain tumor?

Answer

Neha Vapiwala , MD, Senior Editor of OncoLink and Chief Resident in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

Yes, it is fine for a woman to breastfeed while receiving just radiation to the brain for a brain tumor, assuming she is still able to lactate. However, brain tumors are often treated concurrently with radiation as well as a chemotherapy drug called temzolomide (Temodar). Studies have not shown whether it is safe to breastfeed while taking temzolomide, and thus it should be avoided if one is on this drug.

In general, as long as there is NO concurrent chemotherapy being given during the external beam radiation therapy for a given cancer , then it is safe to breastfeed during external beam radiation to any body site. An exception to this is breast cancer, in which case the breast being irradiated should not be used for breastfeeding, but the other breast could be used. Breast cancer patients should discuss lactation and nursing issues with their oncologists, as there a number of other factors involved and to be considered in this group of patients when it comes to breastfeeding.

For brachytherapy patients (as opposed to external beam radiation):
if one has permanent implants in a body site, then breastfeeding may be a problem depending on how long ago the implants were placed, and it would be best to discuss with the treating oncologists; if one has temporary implants somewhere in the body, prolonged contact with a baby should be avoided, including breastfeeding.