Treatment-Related Breast Cancer: Survivor, Are You at Risk?

Treatment-Related Breast Cancer: Survivor, Are You at Risk?

The risk of developing breast cancer after treatment for a childhood, adolescent, or young adult cancer depends on the type of treatment one received for their original diagnosis. While treatment-related breast cancers affect primarily females, males are also at risk as they, too, have breast tissue.

Known Risk Factors:

  • Chest radiation greater than or equal to 20 Gy
  • The TOTAL dose of chest radiation received: the higher the total, the greater the risk
  • Early menstruation: before the age of 12
  • Late Menopause: after age 55
  • Never having a baby OR having a baby after the age of 30
  • Having a close relative with breast cancer
  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle

Note: TBI should be factored into the total dose of chest radiation

Breast Cancer after Chest Radiation Therapy for Childhood Cancer

Possible Risk Factors:

  • High in fat diet
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Never having breastfed
  • Smoking
  • Birth control pills
  • Hormone replacement therapy taken for long periods of time

This risk for treatment-related breast cancer begins to rise between 5-9 years after the radiation therapy ends and continues to rise, thus breast cancer occurs in much younger women and the risk does not appear to plateau.


There is no way to prevent the development of treatment-related breast cancer; one must, therefore, be committed to surveillance in the name of early detection.

Early Detection:

If you receive 20 Gy or greater of radiation to your chest during your cancer treatment, then the monitoring recommendations are as follows:

  • Be Breast Aware: report any lumps, bumps, pain, discharge, or any other change to your healthcare provider immediately
  • Clinical Breast Exam performed once a year until you are 25 years old, then every 6 months thereafter
  • Have a yearly mammogram and breast MRI starting at age 25 or 8 years after you received the radiation; ideally, alternating at 6-month intervals

What if I received less than 20 GY?

You may still be at increased risk; therefore, it is important for you to discuss this risk and devise a plan for monitoring with your primary care provider that is appropriate and acceptable to you.

Children’s Oncology Group Survivorship Guidelines

What if you didn’t receive any chest radiation whatsoever?

You may still be at risk if you received akylators, anthracyclines, DTIC, or carmustine as part of your chemotherapy. In particular, survivors of sarcomas, Hodgkin’s Disease, and the leukemias seem to carry an increased risk for the subsequent development of breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Risk in Childhood Cancer Survivors Without a History of Chest Radiotherapy

LifeStyle Changes you may want to consider:

  • Eat more fruits and veggies
  • 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week
  • Lose weight
  • Stop smoking
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • If you have a baby, try to breastfeed 3-4 months
  • If you need hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills, discuss the risks and benefits within the context of your cancer treatment history

Disclaimer: This content is intended for survivors of childhood cancers and is provided for educational purposes only. This is not medical advice; please consult your healthcare providers with questions and/or concerns.

Further Reading and Resources:

Guidelines on Survivorship Care from ASCO

American Cancer Society on MRI Screening

American Cancer Society on Breast Screening in Women of Average Risk

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