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Breast Irradiation and Respiratory Infections

Breast Irradiation and Respiratory Infections

Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

Is there a connection between radiation (Right breast, ductal carcinoma in situ) and later increase of upper respiratory infections (URI)?

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:

There is no known link between breast cancer irradiation and URI's of which I am aware. Specifically, there is no direct anatomic connection between the breast tissue that is treated in radiation fields (which routinely includes the underlying chest wall and a sliver of lung) and the upper respiratory tract, nor can I think of any immunologic link.

Having said that, if a breast cancer patient also had several months of chemotherapy prior to breast irradiation (note: chemotherapy is NOT indicated for ductal carcinoma in situ, but can be used for invasive breast cancer), this could cause suppression of the immune system and greater susceptibility to infections such as URI's. However, despite this short-term increased risk of infection from chemotherapy, there is no clear long-term risk or reason for chronic upper respiratory infections related to breast cancer therapy.