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Cancer. 1975 Sep;36(3):904-13.

Rupture of major vessels after radiation.


Rupture of irradiated large vessels is an uncommon complication which tends to occur in carotid, aorta, and femoral arteries, in decreasing order of incidence. It particularly affects men subjected to surgery and radiotherapy for epidermoid carcinomas in oropharynx, esophagus, or genitalia. Contrary to some opinion, radiation is not the most significant cause; this "spontaneous" arterial rupture can occur without radiation. The perforation is not associated with tumor invasion of arterial wall, as has been claimed. Surgical complications, especially necrosis of skin flaps, infection, and fistulas are most important etiologically. Only 2 of the 11 instances that we describe appear to have been caused mainly by radiation. The perforation is usually fatal, but several patients, including 3 of our series (2 carotid, 1 femoral), have been saved by hospital personnel aware of this complication. To prevent it, prolonged exposure or infection of arteries, whether irradiated or not, should be avoided.

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