Breast Health

Radiation Treatment in Childhood Boosts Breast Cancer Risk

Girls who get radiation therapy to the chest to treat cancer are at higher risk for breast cancer by the time they turn 50, a new study says.

Photo of 3 women at a breast cancer event

Because of this risk, the researchers urge women who had radiation therapy as children to get breast cancer screening earlier than recommended for other women. The most common childhood cancers are leukemia, brain tumors, and lymphoma.

For the study, researchers from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City looked at data on 1,200 women in the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study and 4,570 women who are first-degree relatives of participants in the Women's Environmental Cancer and Radiation Epidemiology Study. That study involved women diagnosed with breast cancer who survived at least one year after diagnosis.

Early age

Among the childhood cancer survivors, 24 percent were diagnosed with breast cancer by the time they were 50 years old. In addition, 30 percent who survived Hodgkin lymphoma developed breast cancer.

In comparison, the researchers noted that among women with the BRCA1 gene mutation - usually considered at high risk for breast cancer - 31 percent developed breast cancer by age 50.

Experts once thought that only moderate to high doses of radiation raised the risk for breast cancer, but this study shows that even those who got low doses face an increased risk.

Earlier screening

The researchers recommend that women who were treated with radiation therapy when they were younger get an annual mammogram and breast MRI either by the time they are 25 years old or eight years after their therapy.

"Our results suggest that young women treated with lower doses of radiation who are not currently being screened also have an elevated risk of breast cancer and might benefit from a similar screening strategy," says lead author Chaya Moskowitz, Ph.D.

The study was presented at a recent meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Cancer Society - Cancer in Children

Children's Oncology Group - Family Handbook for Children with Cancer

National Cancer Institute - Childhood Cancers

August 2012

What Is Radiation Therapy?

Radiation therapy is also called radiation oncology. It uses special kinds of energy waves or particles to fight cancer. Like surgery, radiation therapy is used in several ways, depending on the type and location of the cancer. Certain levels of radiation work to destroy cancer cells or prevent cells from growing or reproducing. This treatment may provide a cure for cancer, control the disease, or help relieve its symptoms.

Although each hospital may have specific ways of giving radiation therapy to a child, it usually begins with these procedures.

Simulation process

The treatment team will do a physical exam and review your child's medical history. Then they will "map" out the position your child will be in for each treatment and the exact location on your child's body where the radiation will be given. This is called the simulation process.

Sometimes, the area on your child's body that requires treatment will be marked to make sure radiation is given properly. The treatment team may also make molds, headrests, or other devices that help to position your child during your treatment. Imaging studies may also be done during the simulation process to help plan how to direct the radiation during treatments.

Treatment plan

Once the simulation process is done, the radiation oncologist will figure out your child's treatment plan. This plan will include the type of machine to use, the amount of radiation that is needed, and the number of treatments that will be given.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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