Radiation for Cancer Treatment and Second Cancer Risk

Last Modified: March 22, 2012

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Question

Does getting radiation for one cancer, put me at risk for developing more cancer?

Answer

Charles B. Simone, II, MD, Radiation Oncologist at Penn Medicine, responds:

Unfortunately, yes. Anytime radiation therapy is received by an individual, that individual is at a small but real increased risk of developing a second cancer from that irradiation. This risk typically occurs many years to decades after radiation therapy is completed. Most studies suggest that a second cancer from radiation therapy occurs in between 1 in 100 to 1 in 1000 patients (0.1-1%), although the risk may be slightly higher for certain cancers. The risk depends on the dose of radiation therapy given, the location that the radiation therapy is delivered, and the age of the patient at the time of radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is administered to over 50% of patients with solid cancers over the course of their disease, and it is used as a way to treat cancer and help manage symptoms from the cancer. Many times, it is a necessary part of a multi-modality plan to attempt to cure patients with cancer. While the risk for a second cancer is real, the risk is very, very small, and in nearly all situations, the benefit of the radiation therapy far outweighs its risks.

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series. View the entire Cancer Risk & Prevention Webchat transcript.