Last update: Aug. 5, 2019
Minimal risk for breastfeeding and infant.
Radiation therapy, alone or in combination with chemotherapy and surgery, is used in the treatment of cancer. It consists of irradiating in order to destroy cancer cells with high-energy x-rays or proton beams (ASCO 2016).
It can be external or via external beam, when it is administered from a device which is external to the body, or internal or brachytherapy, when radioactive material is introduced into the body, into the tumor or surrounding tissue.
This entry refers to EXTERNAL BEAM RADIOTHERAPY. Here, the radiation passes through the body leaving no radioactive imprint in the patient and is therefore not "radioactive", that is, it does not emit radiation (ASCO 2016).
There is no reason for a breastfeeding mother’s milk to be altered during the radiotherapy process, either in the breast, or another part of the body and it is not radioactive. It is possible, if the mother wishes and her clinical conditions and medication allow it, to breastfeed between radiotherapy sessions.
Radiotherapy makes the skin of the irradiated area more sensitive and delicate. That is why some authors advise against breastfeeding from the affected breast during radiation therapy (Johnson 2019, Shachar 2017).
After radiotherapy in the chest area, whether due to breast cancer or another neoproliferative process (eg Hodgkin lymphoma), once the process is cured, you can breastfeed from the healthy breast and also from the irradiated breast (Leal 2013, McCullough 2010 , Moran 2005, Tralins 1995, Higgins 1994, Varsos 1991 and Rodger 1989), but there is less frequency (25 to 50%) of breastfeeding in mothers who received irradiation in the breast, due to lower milk production and some biochemical change (Akhtar 2015 , Leal 2013, McCullough 2010, Moran 2005, Tralins 1995, Higgins 1994, Varsos 1991 and Rodger 1989), and/or the infant will not want to breastfeed from the irradiated side (Mohamad 2016), being possible to breastfeed from a single breast (Mohamad 2016).
Following cranial radiotherapy received years ago for cancer or childhood leukemia, lower milk production and a higher frequency of breastfeeding failure has been noted (Hall 2014, Follin 2013 and Johnston 2008), perhaps due to insufficient prolactin (Follin 2013), but it is recommended to attempt breastfeeding, advising the mother of the possibility of failure (Hall 2014 and Johnston 2008).
We do not have alternatives for External Radiotherapy since it is relatively safe.
Suggestions made at e-lactancia are done by APILAM´s pediatricians and pharmacists, and are based on updated scientific publications.
It is not intended to replace the relationship you have with your doctor but to compound it.
Your contribution is essential for this service to continue to exist. We need the generosity of people like you who believe in the benefits of breastfeeding.
Thank you for helping to protect and promote breastfeeding.
e-lactancia is a resource recommended by Asociación Española de Bancos de Leche Humana from Spain
Would you like to recommend the use of e-lactancia? Write to us at corporate mail of APILAM