Vital organ damage with radiotherapy

Hi everyone. I am just about to start radiotherapy, but have been scared to find out that there will be some lung and possibly heart damage (depending on its size and I haven’t been measured yet) which is permanent. Is this damage likely to cause problems say with respiration later (I’m 51 now) or say energy levels/ stamina. At present I am a professional singer, so the thought of my lung and possibly my heart being damaged are very worrying. Am I worrying needlessly? Would a mastectomy be a better option? PS. I am not worried about the cosmetic effect of losing a breast>

Hi Allegra,

It’s not a case of “there will be” rather “there may be”. I did not suffer any problems. I was told that any side effects, which may occur, are usually temporary. There may be a small risk of long-term or late permanent effects but such side effects are rarely severe. I would say that you are worrying unnecessarily but I understand why.

Margaret x

Hi Allegra

After a lumpectomy I was found not to have clear margins and (after chemo) was offered 35 radiotherapy sessions or a mastectomy. I plumped for mastectomy without reconstruction and have never regretted it. You could speak to your surgeon about this and see if it is an option.

In 1990, I was diagnosed with cancer in right breast and had a lumpectomy plus radiotherapy at Chrisities. I then had further diagnoses in 2002, treated by surgery and chemotherapy but no further radiotherapy. A year later, I noticed I had a wheeze in my chest which an xray showed to be damage to my right lung from radiotherapy. I was so relieved that it wasn’t lung metatases that I did not pursue this further but a CT scan in December this year has shown that I have permanent scarring to my right lung from the radiotherapy in 1990.

I don’t know how widespread problems related to radiotherapy are or if I have just been unlucky. I understand that there may have been some problems with overdosage at Chrisities in the early 1990s and perhaps significantly, my treatment was stopped for 3 days in the middle whilst the machines were adjusted.

I have read that there is a possibility that radiotherapy to the left breast area can damage the heart but don’t know if this still applies.

My stamina has certainly been affected over the past few years and I find myself completely whacked if I do any sort of physical exercise for longer than 5 minutes. It could be that in my case, chemo further damaged my lung.

Perhaps your oncologist could arrange for you to discuss these issues with someone from the radiology department in view of your singing career.

Good luck.

Wendy x

My oncologist said that it would result in 10% reduction in lung function but that people can cope perfectly well on 90%.With modern machines there is much less chance of damage.

Hi allegra,

I had chemo and then 25 rads and 2 boosters after WLE and total axillary removal. My Oncologist (long gone after two dreadful consultations) didn’t even mention lung problems.
I have had no lung problems, even though I still continue to smoke - don’t even go there! However, my tumour breast is very swollen, aureole white with no apparent blood supply, and some nasty long lumps where the scar was. Saw my bc surgeon Tuesday and he said the changes in my breast are due to radiotherapy… some 4 yrs later I asked? He said it could be 40 yrs later, and had to laugh as I am 63 yrs young.

You could ask for a physical lung test - I seem to remember having one some 30 yrs ago for a company annual medical, and the doctor said I had the lung capacity of a large man. I am 5’ 2" and weighed some 7 stones at that time. Well, I had to get lucky sometime.

Just my own experience - if you are worried, suggest you talt to your Oncologist and get appropriate tests.


Thanks for all your ideas/experiences ladies. I am getting myself into a real whirl tossing this choice around (ie. radio.or mastectomy). I’d be particularly interested in hearing of any ladies who are perhaps having problems with lungs or heart a lot later after radiotherapy…say 15 or 20 years…if any of you are using this site. It seems that Sappho has been really unfortunate (not what you’d expect from a top hospital!) and I’m hoping that this kind of experience is not the norm. Good luck to everyboby out there struggling with their own BC…it seems to be a minefield of conflicting information… That said, I am really grateful for the services we do have and at my own hospital, I think they are trying to tell me everything they know, in so far as it goes. Love to you all. Allegra