Manning Regional Healthcare Center
Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatment
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancer diagnoses in the United States, affecting one in eight women at some point during her lifetime. Approximately 280,000 women and 2,600 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Following diagnosis, your healthcare provider will decide on a suitable treatment plan. While this is a necessary part of the battle, unfortunately, most methods of treatment carry the risk of unwanted side effects. Treatment-related side effects may cause external damage to the body as well as internal damage to tissues.
Breast cancer can be surgically treated by mastectomy, which involves removal of the breast tissue. Normally, the surgical incision is closed up using stitches and eventually forms scar tissue. However, in some cases, proper healing is delayed and the wound has trouble closing up. Additional care may be required in order to keep the area clean and keep infections at bay.
The mastectomy procedure may damage blood vessels at the surgical site, resulting in lack of proper blood flow. This can lead to necrosis, or death, of the surrounding tissue. Dying tissue will start to turn black and may develop open sores, increasing the risk of infection.
Radiation therapy is often needed to shrink tumors in the breast. This treatment primarily destroys cancer cells but can also affect normal healthy cells like skin cells. In response to radiation, some people may develop radiation burns, also referred to as X-ray dermatitis or radiation dermatitis. Radiation burns resemble sun buns and can cause areas of the skin to become sensitive and redden, peel, or blister.
Radiation can also cause internal damage to muscles, organs, or fatty breast tissue. This is referred to as soft tissue radionecrosis and is caused by scarring of the blood vessels, leading to decreased blood flow and death of the surrounding tissues. Soft tissue radionecrosis may not become apparent until many months or even years following cancer treatment.
Like organs and soft tissue, bones can also be negatively impacted by radiation. Damage to blood vessels may result in death of the bone tissue, called osteoradionecrosis. This is a rare complication and is usually observed more than a year after cancer treatment.
If you’re suffering from tissue damage as a result of breast cancer treatment, know that we’re here to help. Our wound healing center treats all wounds, but specializes in those that are hard to heal. To facilitate wound healing, our clinicians are trained in both traditional and advanced therapies, including hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO).
We are dedicated to determining the optimal treatment to address each individual situation. Our treatment plans are designed to complement the care your own physician provides, ensuring that your health care team is always working together to provide the treatment that’s right for you.
- How Common Is Breast Cancer? American Cancer Society. Updated May 7, 2021. Accessed September 16 2021. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/about/how-common-is-breast-cancer.html
- Delayed Wound Healing. Breastcancer.org. Updated April 17, 2019. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/side_effects/wound_healing
- Necrosis of the Breast Skin Related to Mastectomy. Breastcancer.org. Updated March 25, 2020. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/surgery/reconstruction/corrective/necrosis-skin
- DePolo J. Radiation Therapy Side Effects. Breastcancer.org. Updated August 18, 2021. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/radiation/side_effects
- Delayed Radiation Injury (Soft Tissue and Bony Necrosis). Virginia Mason Medical Center. Accessed September 16, 2021. https://www.virginiamason.org/delayed-radiation-injury-soft-tissue-and-bony-necrosis
- Kim YS, Yoon JH. Osteoradionecrosis of the Anterior Thoracic Wall after Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer. J Korean Soc Radiol. 2019;80(5):1003-1007. doi: 10.3348/jksr.2019.80.5.1003