Skip to content

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Description of Evidence


    Ionizing radiation exposure

    A well-established relationship exists between exposure to ionizing radiation and the risk of developing breast cancer.[52] Excess breast cancer risk is consistently observed in association with a variety of exposures such as fluoroscopy for tuberculosis and radiation treatments for acne, tinea, thymic enlargement, postpartum mastitis, or Hodgkin lymphoma. Although risk is inversely associated with age at radiation exposure, the manifestation of breast cancer risk occurs according to the usual age-related pattern.[53] An estimate of the risk of breast cancer associated with medical radiology puts the figure at less than 1% of the total.[54] However, it has been theorized that certain populations, such as AT heterozygotes, are at an increased risk of breast cancer from radiation exposure.[55] A large cohort study of women who carry mutations of BRCA1 or BRCA2 concluded that chest x-rays increase the risk of breast cancer still further (RR = 1.54; 95% CI, 1.1–2.1), especially for women who were x-rayed before age 20 years.[56]

    Women treated for Hodgkin lymphoma by age 16 years may have a subsequent risk, which is as high as 35%, of developing breast cancer by age 40 years.[57,58] One study suggests that higher doses of radiation (median dose, 40 Gy in breast cancer cases) and treatment received between the ages of 10 and 16 years corresponds with higher risk.[57] Unlike the risk for secondary leukemia, the risk of treatment-related breast cancer did not abate with duration of follow-up; that is, increased risk persisted more than 25 years after treatment.[57,59,60] In these studies, most patients (85%–100%) who developed breast cancer did so either within the field of radiation or at the margin.[57,58,59] A Dutch study examined 48 women who developed breast cancer at least 5 years after treatment for Hodgkin disease and compared them with 175 matched female Hodgkin disease patients who did not develop breast cancer. Patients treated with chemotherapy and mantle radiation were less likely to develop breast cancer than those treated with mantle radiation alone, possibly because of chemotherapy-induced ovarian suppression (RR = 0.06; 95% CI, 0.01–0.45).[61] Another study of 105 radiation-associated breast cancer patients and 266 age-matched and radiation-matched controls showed a similar protective effect for ovarian radiation.[60] These studies suggest that ovarian hormones promote the proliferation of breast tissue with radiation-induced mutations.[60]


    Today on WebMD

    Breast Cancer Overview
    From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
    Dealing with breast cancer
    Get answers to your questions.
    woman having mammogram
    Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
    woman undergoing breast cancer test
    Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
    Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
    Resolved To Quit Smoking
    Woman getting mammogram
    Screening Tests for Women
    ovarian cancer overview slideshow
    serious woman
    what is your cancer risk
    10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow

    WebMD Special Sections