Breast Cancer Following Treatment: Are You at Risk?

Several studies have shown that women treated with radiation to the chest for cancer during childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood have an increased risk of developing breast cancer as they get older, compared to women their same age in the general population. The risk of secondary breast cancer is related to the dose of radiation. People treated with higher doses of radiation have the highest risk. Researchers are studying this problem to better understand the risk factors and find ways to prevent secondary breast cancer.

Known Risk Factors

Possible Additional Risk Factors

Occurrence of Breast Cancer Caused by Cancer Treatment

The risk of secondary breast cancer begins to increase between five and nine years following radiation therapy and continues to rise thereafter. This means that if a woman develops breast cancer following chest radiation for childhood/adolescent cancer, it usually happens at a much younger age (usually 30 to 40 years old) than in women who develop primary breast cancer (usually age 50 or older).

Protecting Health

Most patients who received radiation therapy to the chest during childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood will NOT develop breast cancer. However, if a patient received radiation to the chest, it’s important to understand that the risk IS higher than for those who did not. The best way for patients to protect their health is by taking steps to closely monitor their breasts. Treatment is most effective when cancer is detected in its earliest stages.

Recommended Monitoring

Patients treated with chest radiation therapy during childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood, should:

Minimizing Risk

The following lifestyle changes may help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer, and will also help patients to stay as healthy as possible:


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