Breast-conserving surgery (BCS) and radiotherapy reduce breast cancer recurrence but can cause functional deficits in breast cancer survivors. A cross-sectional study quantified the long-term pathophysiological impact of these treatments on biomechanical measures of shoulder stiffness and ultrasound shear wave elastography measures of the shear elastic modulus of the pectoralis major (PM). Nine node-positive patients treated with radiotherapy to the breast and regional nodes after BCS and axillary lymph node dissection (Group 1) were compared to nine node-negative patients treated with radiotherapy to the breast alone after BCS and sentinel node biopsy (Group 2) and nine healthy age-matched controls. The mean follow-up for Group 1 and Group 2 patients was 988 days and 754 days, respectively. Shoulder stiffness did not differ between the treatment groups and healthy controls (p = 0.23). The PM shear elastic modulus differed between groups (p = 0.002), with Group 1 patients exhibiting a stiffer PM than Group 2 patients (p < 0.001) and healthy controls (p = 0.027). The mean prescribed radiotherapy dose to the PM was significantly correlated with passive shear elastic modulus (p = 0.018). Breast cancer patients undergoing more extensive axillary surgery and nodal radiotherapy did not experience long-term functional deficits to shoulder integrity but did experience long-term mechanical changes of the PM.
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