Radiation for recurrent breast cancer after prior radiation

Lawrence J. Solin, MD, FACR
Last Modified: March 24, 2002


Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

My sister-in-law had breast cancer two years ago. It now has returned. She told me that she could never receive radiation again because she had it already. Is this true?



Lawrence J. Solin, MD, FACR, Professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

Radiation treatment is often effective for breast cancer, and is used in many situations. Radiation is often used to treat the breast when breast cancer is in its early stages, and is sometimes used to treat metastatic breast cancer when it has spread to other parts of the body.

A course of radiation is usually given as a series of daily treatments (also called fractions). A course of radiation is designed to maximize the control of the cancer, but minimize the risk of complications. The reason that radiation treatment is generally not given to the same area of the body twice is that the risk of complications becomes too high because the normal (non-cancer) tissues will not tolerate such high doses of radiation. There are some rare situations in which radiation can be given twice to the same area.