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Side effects

All treatments for breast cancer carry a risk of side effects.

People respond to treatments in different ways. Some side effects may appear in the short-term (known as acute side effects) or may appear several months later (long-term side effects).

Most patients cope well with brachytherapy treatment and the risk of long-term side effects are about the same as other radiotherapy techniques.1

Short-term (acute) side effects

As with all treatments, you may experience some side effects immediately after the treatment procedure.
After brachytherapy, you may experience some of the following:2,3

  • Tiredness
  • Soreness or redness on the skin of the breast
  • Swollen breast tissue
  • Slight changes in the color of the skin of the breast
  • Infection following the placement of the applicators (in the case of catheter or balloon delivery)

These short-term side effects are typically mild in nature and usually resolve soon after treatment.

Long-term side effects

Brachytherapy, as with other treatments, may result in some long-term side effects.

Long-term side effects that sometimes appear after brachytherapy include:2,3

  • Fibrosis: the breast tissue can change in texture and feel a little firmer after treatment. The risk of developing fibrosis depends on the dose of radiation received. Treatment is tailored to reduce the risk of fibrosis from occurring.
  • Fat necrosis: radiation can cause some of the fat tissue within the breast to break down, causing local irritation of the tissue. However, only about 2% of patients are affected by this.

Discuss your treatment options and the relative risks of potential side effects with your healthcare professional.

1. Polgár C, Major T, Fodor J, et al. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2004;60(4):1173-1181.
2. Kelley JR et al. In: Brachytherapy: applications and techniques. Devlin PM (Ed). Philadelphia, PA, LWW. 2007.
3. Van Limbergen E and Mazeron JJ. In: The GEC ESTRO Handbook of Brachytherapy. Gerbaulet A, Potter R, Mazeron J-J, et al (Eds). Leuven, Belgium, ACCO. 2002.