Radiation Scar Tissue

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Nearly 60% of all patients being treated for cancer receive radiation. The radiation may be in combination with chemotherapy and surgery or used as an individual treatment. The strength of radiation varies for individuals and their diagnosis. What many patients are unaware of is the formation of scar tissue that often occurs post treatment.

What is Scar Tissue?

Scar tissue is a thicker, less pliable tissue than normal muscle and fascia tissue. It tends to feel “stiff” in the area where the scar tissue forms and is often painful to varying degrees. Scar tissue forms within 6 months of stopping radiation, with the majority forming between 3 months to 6 months post radiation. In some cases it can continue to grow even after 6 months. Depending on where the radiation is being given, sometimes, you are given exercises to do while receiving radiation to keep the area flexible. This is common in head and neck cancers that are being radiated.

Women who have had radiation to their breasts often feel a tightness, stiffness and “tender to touch” feeling and a hardening of tissue in their breast. Only after a doctor has confirmed that the area is indeed scar tissue should you proceed with scar tissue therapy. Much can be done to help break down this thick tissue. Some of it will break down naturally with movement but often, additional treatment is necessary.

Treatment

When working with your massage therapist for scar tissue reduction, the treatment should be very interactive. A constant monitoring of pain level and pressure level is necessary. Many women do not have full feeling in their breasts after surgery, so it is especially important for the therapist to be aware of this.

Lymphadema

Also, lymphadema precautions need to be taken when necessary. Almost all of my patients notice a difference with the first treatment. The treatment is usually very direct with quick results. I like to begin with some lymphatic drainage, then warming up the breast with some gentle effleurage and circular kneading. I use slightly warm basalt rocks to warm the scar tissue, and then begin more intricate work on smaller sections of the breast. Much of the work is repetitive friction, kneading and lymphatic drainage. The most common response is some slight pain the next day followed by a release that allows for a feeling of less restriction and greater range of motion in the area.

I am an advocate of teaching my patients how to work on their scar tissue at home. This makes each visit to me more effective with greater results. It normally takes several treatments to break down the bulk of the scar tissue, and once under control, it is still a good idea to have follow-ups every 6 months or so, as the scar tissue does often return.

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6 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Mark Hollmann / August 13, 2018 at 8:42 am /Reply

    I had stage 4 throat cancer it’s been two years since my last treatment I’m left with Scar Tissue on my left neck I get Charlie Horses muscle cramps from the scar tissue is there anything I can do to prevent this or get rid of it thank you

  2. Melissa Faith-Baun
    Melissa Faith-Baun / August 13, 2018 at 4:19 pm /Reply

    Hi Mark,
    Congratulations on being 2 years out from your treatment, that is wonderful! The scar tissue you have been left with (I am guessing from radiation? or possibly just incisional?) can absolutely be worked on. You will need to find someone trained in your area in both scar tissue mobilization and manual lymphatic drainage. Diagnosed with stage 4 I would imagine that you had lymph nodes removed? If that is correct, that would be why you need someone trained in MLD who does the scar tissue treatment. They should also teach you how to do this treatment at home to help lessen the adhesions you are feeling. Good luck and let me know how you make out. Melissa

  3. Avatar
    jonathan s plater / September 18, 2018 at 3:35 pm /Reply

    Hello. Just found your website. I had mouth cancer right side cheek and was treated with radiation. It caused scar tissue to develop and is particular along jaw and around jaw joint going up to top of top of jaw. Who should I look for to provide any kind of therapy to help break down the scar tissue as is very difficult to open my mouth? Thank you any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  4. Avatar
    jonathan s plater / September 18, 2018 at 3:37 pm /Reply

    I see you are in Pa so am I. Am located in Stroudsburg.

  5. Avatar
    Randi Barenholtz / November 3, 2018 at 4:25 am /Reply

    Hello. I had a lumpectomy and radiation two years ago. I have always felt the effects of scar tissue when I raised my arm but now it feels as if someone is tugging me from the inside. Not always – more like a spasm and I have a spot on my ribs that is very tender to the touch. Does this sound like a secondary effect of the primary scar tissue caused by radiation? Or something different? I went to my gp and he was of no use and didn’t take me seriously but it is happening more often and I am a bit concerned. What type of doctor should I see or what should I do? Thank you.

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