redness of the breast and skin near completion of a course of radiation
Generally the side effects of breast radiation do not become noticeable until the woman has received about 10 treatments, and then become somewhat more noticeable through the rest of the treatment. The most common side effects:
the best treatment for the skin is to use moisturizing creams like Sween, Biofine, or Aloe. For itching the cortisone creams often work well, for burns switch to Silvadene unless there is an allergy to Sulfa.
The side effects generally fade away starting about 5 to 10 days after the treatments have finished. The skin discoloration may take several months to disappear and some women still have breast swelling that can last as long as a year.
|See Picture short-term skin reaction (left breast) then appearance by one month (see pic); typical appearance (right breast) years after lumpectomy and radiation (see pic); and occasional situation where there has been shrinkage or fibrosis of the treated breast (right breast treated, see pic) another picture of right breast shrinkage (see pic). Most women have little evidence of previous radiation (see pic). Significant side effects from the literature are listed below.|
The radiation beams pass through the chest wall from side to
side (tangentially, see diagrams
two and skim the surface of the lung (avoiding the heart
and spinal cord.) It does hit muscles and ribs and can cause some side effects (as noted
For more information on arm swelling (lymphedema) go here
|Arm Edema (swelling)||5 - 20%|
|Pneumonitis (lung inflammation)||1%|
|Brachial Plexopathy (nerve injury)||< 1%|
|Many of the side effects patients complain about are related to the lymph node dissection, this problem may be eliminated in the future by limited node dissections (sentinel)|
|limited range of motion||8%|
|In the past, the radiation technique included using a Cobalt machine to radiate the internal mammary field which inadvertently radiated the heart in women with left side breast cancers. This technique is no longer used and more recent data shows the odds of a woman getting a heart attack after breast radiation is about the same for right sided cancers as for left (JNCI 2005;97:419) see below and study from MD Anderson here. There is a small but real increased risk of other cancers in women receiving radiation(go here) and sarcomas (go here).|
therapy may cause 1) Fatigue: tiredness for no apparent
reason is a temporary effect going away within a month or two after completion of
radiation. 2) Skin damage: within the area of radiation, the
skin may develop a sunburn-like area within 2-6 weeks after treatment. This will go away.
The skin may also become slightly thick compared to skin on the untreated breast. Treated
skin will also be more sensitive to sun exposure in the future. 3) Swelling:
the breast will feel heavy, almost like a pre-menstrual breast, during treatment and for
several months afterwards. 4) Muscle tightness: muscles in
the chest wall under the treated breast can sometimes feel sore or tight
during and after radiation treatments. 5) Although uncommon, radiation may cause a cough and difficulty breathing in that part of the lung under the
treated breast. A radiologist may see a slight change in this part of your lung on chest
x-ray or CT scan or similar imaging of your chest. It is very unlikely that this will
cause any decrease in exercise tolerance. 6) Although uncommon, pericarditis,
(irritation of the sac surrounding the heart), myocarditis (irritation of the heart
muscle), or rib fractures may occur long after completion of the radiation treatments.
Your physician will be checking you closely to see if any of these side effects are occurring. Side effects usually disappear after the treatment is stopped. In the meantime, your doctor may prescribe medication to keep these side effects under control.