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Radiation Therapy: Overview

Radiation therapy can be an important component of your care.


Breast cancer care is multi-disciplinary, and involves surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, and other providers. Plastic Surgery Northwest surgeons regularly attend regional “tumor board” meetings, to actively participate in patient-specific discussions about the role of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy for breast cancer management. At that meeting, the appropriate therapy or therapies will be determined, as well as the therapy’s timeline and order.

What Are the Risks of Radiation Therapy?

Radiation can impact breast reconstruction in multiple ways. Radiation works by injuring or killing rapidly dividing cells, specifically cancer cells. In addition to killing cancer cells, radiation can produce “collateral damage” to surrounding structures. Radiation injures the skin by decreasing its blood supply, and can cause scarring of deeper structures like the muscle.

Radiation With A Lumpectomy

For women who have lumpectomy and radiation therapy, the radiation can impact the quality of local tissue on a long term basis. Women who have a large lumpectomy defect will commonly undergo parenchymal rearrangement prior to radiation therapy. Women may also develop a tethered lumpectomy scar after radiation. Post-radiation scar release and fat grafting can improve the aesthetics of the lumpectomy site.

Radiation With A Mastectomy

Use of radiated tissue for breast reconstruction can be unreliable. For women who have had radiation therapy after mastectomy, we prioritize bringing in healthy, nonradiated tissue to the mastectomy site. Abdominal-based reconstruction and back-based reconstruction are common donor sites from which nonradiated tissue can be moved.

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