Long-Term Effects of Chemotherapy and Radiation Treatments

John Han-Chih Chang, MD and Kenneth Blank, MD
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

Dear Editors,  
I have been to many, web sites and libraries. I am not having any luck. I hope I will find my answer with you! I have had breast cancer. I have had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy & radiation therapy. I am trying to find is information on the long term effects from chemotherapy and radiation. Will my breast return to the soft tissue it was before radiation? So many questions!

I hope you can help me.  

John Han-Chih Chang, MD and Kenneth Blank, MD, Editorial Assistants for Oncolink, responds:

Thank you for your interest and question.

The long term effects of your breast cancer treatment is based a number of things. First, the chemotherapy effects are specific to the type of chemotherapy that you received. Most likely, you received a combination of agents such as adriamycin, cytoxan, 5-flurouracil and/or methotrexate. All of these have different side effects which can be enhanced when taken in conjunction with other treatments. Speak with your oncologist about what medications you received and how it could it affect you in the long run. He or she is you best resource on the effects of chemotherapy and how it relates to you.

The radiation therapy can cause very few long term problems when done correctly. There is an increased risk of lymphedema or swelling in the arm due to blockage the lymph vessels from the lymph node dissection at the time of surgery along with addition of radiation to that region. This is usually treated with physical therapy. There is also a small risk of rib fracture with prior radiation to the chest/breast in the area treated with radiation. It does take quite a bit of trauma for an injury to cause a fracture, so it is not a case where a deep breath could cause it to break. Occasionally, there is irritation of the lungs leading to a cough. There may be irritation of the ribs and intercostal muscles which could be uncomfortable on the side of the irradiated breast.

The radiation along with lumpectomy commonly cause minimal deformity on the affected breast. There is edema or swell and scarring that occurs after radiation and lumpectomy. This is the firmness that you feel in your breasts at this time. Occasionally, this improves, but it may never return to it's original softness.


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