Changes to breast appearance after cancer treatment

Surgery and radiotherapy for breast cancer can cause changes to the appearance of the breast. Sometimes these changes can continue or develop after treatment finishes. These are called late effects.

Changes to how the breast looks after treatment

After breast cancer treatment, there may be some changes to how the breast or chest looks. The changes may depend on which treatments you had. Talk to your cancer doctor or specialist nurse if you are finding these changes difficult.

There are different ways of helping improve how the breast looks, and ways of helping you cope with the changes.

Changes caused by surgery

Surgery for breast cancer can cause changes to the appearance, size and shape of the breast.


After any type of breast cancer surgery, there will be a scar. The amount of scarring will depend on the type of surgery you have and how well it heals. Most scars fade with time and become less obvious.

Stretching and massaging the scar area every day during the first year after surgery can help to reduce scarring. Ask your cancer doctor or specialist nurse for more advice.

After surgery, you may find it hard to accept the changes. It may change how you feel about yourself (your body image) and affect your sex life. You may need support adjusting to the changes.

Breast reconstruction

If surgery for breast cancer has changed the shape or appearance of your breast or chest, it may be possible to have further surgery. This is called breast reconstruction.

Breast reconstruction is an operation that may help you find a shape that you are comfortable and confident with. It can be done soon after the first breast cancer operation or years later. There is no time or age limit on when the operation should be done. But you will need to be fit enough for the surgery. You can discuss this with your cancer doctor or specialist nurse. They can also arrange a referral to a plastic surgeon for more advice.

You may have dents or uneven areas of breast tissue after cancer surgery breast reconstruction. It may be possible to fill in these dents using fat cells removed from the tummy area (abdomen) or thighs. This is called lipomodelling.

Breast prosthesis

A breast prosthesis is a false breast made from silicone. You wear it inside a bra. They come in different skin tones.

A prosthesis that fits well helps some people feel more confident about their body. If you use a prosthesis but it is no longer a good fit, you can have a reassessment. You can have this even if your prosthesis is still in good condition.

You can also get prosthetic (false) nipples which can be made in different sizes, shapes and skin tones.

Some styles of bras, swimwear and underwear work better than others with a breast prosthesis. Breast Cancer Now has helpful information about this.

We have more information on how your breast looks after surgery.

Changes caused by radiotherapy

Radiotherapy to the breast or chest can change how the treated area looks and feels. Tell your cancer doctor or nurse if you notice any changes.


After radiotherapy, the skin in the treated area may change colour. It may sometimes become darker. It may also be more sensitive. It is important to protect the area from strong sunlight by:

  • covering up with clothes
  • using suncream with a high sun protection factor (SPF).

Blood vessels

Sometimes blood vessels under the skin become enlarged (dilated). This is called telangiectasia. It can cause lots of thin red, blue or purple lines. This changes how the breast area looks, but it should not cause any other problems.

Rarely, prominent blood vessels in the skin of the breast or chest can be a sign of more serious conditions. Always talk to your cancer doctor or specialist nurse about any changes.

Appearance and size

After radiotherapy, the breast tissue can sometimes harden or thicken. This is called fibrosis. The breast tissue may also shrink slightly over time. Shrinkage is worse if you smoke. Your cancer doctor may strongly advise you to stop smoking. Sometimes after radiotherapy, the breast may be swollen.  It usually goes back to normal over a few weeks or months.

If you notice changes in how your breast looks or feels, it is best to get checked by your cancer doctor or specialist nurse.

Breasts often get bigger with age or weight gain. But if you have had radiotherapy, the treated breast will not always grow to match the other breast. Keeping to a healthy weight can help them stay similar in size.

If the breasts are very different sizes, it may be possible to have surgery to reduce the size of the larger breast. Fat injections may also help smooth out any uneven areas. This is called lipomodelling. Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse can tell you more about this.

Some people choose to use a partial breast prosthesis called a shell. This can help make the breasts look more even under clothing.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our late effects of breast cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at

    Curigliano et al 2020. Management of cardiac disease in cancer patients throughout oncological treatment: ESMO consensus recommendations. Annals of Oncology. Vol 31 (2). Available from: [accessed November 2021].

    Fabi et al 2020. Cancer-related fatigue: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis and treatment. Annals of Oncology. Available from: [accessed November 2021].

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Early and locally advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and management. NG101. Available from: [accessed November 2021].

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Dr Rebecca Roylance, Consultant Medical Oncologist and Professor Mike Dixon, Professor of Surgery and Consultant Breast Surgeon.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 July 2023
Next review: 01 July 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.