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Breast cancer risk after Hodgkin lymphoma

This page tells you about breast cancer risk after Hodgkin lymphoma. There is information about


What second cancers are

A second cancer is a cancer that develops because of previous cancer treatment. Cancer treatments can sometimes lead to future health problems because they damage healthy cells. This is very distressing if it happens. Some people are at risk of a second cancer after treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma.


Breast cancer after Hodgkin lymphoma

The usual treatment for early stage Hodgkin lymphoma in the chest is chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy. We now know that women who've had radiotherapy to the chest for Hodgkin's lymphoma at a young age have an increased risk of breast cancer.

  • If they were treated in childhood, between 1 in 7 and 1 in 3 women will get breast cancer at some point in the 25 years after their treatment
  • If they were treated in their 20s, between 1 in 7 and 1 in 4 women will get breast cancer at some point in the 25 years after their treatment

For women in general, about 1 in 50 will get breast cancer by the age of 50. So you can see that the risk for people treated for Hodgkin lymphoma is quite a bit higher. The individual risk for any woman will depend on the following factors.

  • Her age when she was treated
  • The total dose of radiotherapy she had
  • The amount of time that has gone by
  • Her age now

Researchers and doctors are carrying out research studies. They want to find out whether some women with very early Hodgkin's disease in the chest need radiotherapy or whether having chemotherapy on its own is enough treatment.


Tests for women who have had chest radiotherapy

Because of the increased breast cancer risk, at the end of 2003 the Department of Health arranged for radiotherapy centres to contact all women treated under the age of 35 for Hodgkin lymphoma since 1962. Each woman should have received a letter inviting her to go for a consultation with a specialist. At this appointment they would discuss her individual breast cancer risk.

If you are a woman who had Hodgkin lymphoma treatment in the past, you should have received a letter from your treatment centre by the end of January 2004. If you are worried, or can't remember or don't know where you were treated, you can see your own GP. There will be a record of this in your medical notes.

The radiotherapy centres are not contacting men who had treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma at a young age because they only have a very slightly increased risk of breast cancer. As breast cancer in men is so rare anyway, this slightly increased risk will affect very, very few men.


Points to remember

Finally, it's important for your own peace of mind to know that the increased breast cancer risk has not happened because anything went wrong with your treatment. Treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma is so successful and people are living so long after their treatment that they become more at risk from the long term effects of radiation. But second cancers are usually found early when they can be successfully treated.

Treatments are always improving and doctors now give more focused radiotherapy than in the past. So if you had treatment recently, the risk of breast cancer is likely to be lower than for people who had treatment years ago. 

We have detailed information about breast cancer and many other cancers on this website.

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Updated: 1 May 2013