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The purpose of this investigation was to retrospectively study the outcome of patients undergoing coronary artery operation who were previously treated for breast cancer.Between July 1992 and December 1996, 28 patients with a history of breast cancer underwent coronary artery bypass graft operation and were randomly matched against a noncancer group of similar size (n = 36) to allow for comparison of their preoperative characteristics, operative course, and postoperative outcome.The incidence of sternal wound infection was significantly higher in the cancer group than in the control group (25% versus 6%; p = 0.027). Postoperative noncardiac chest pain occurred more frequently in the cancer group than in the control group (52% versus 31%; not significant). In the study group, radiotherapy and recent myocardial infarction were the only two independent factors associated with sternal wound complications. Patients with a less than 17-year interval between the breast cancer therapy and the coronary artery operation had a higher incidence of sternal wound infection (46%) as opposed to patients with a longer time interval (7%; p = 0.028; odds ratio = 12). Sternal wound complications were more frequent in patients with a history of right-sided breast cancer (50%) compared with left-sided lesions (12.5%; p = 0.068; odds ratio = 7).Coronary artery operation in patients after breast cancer therapy may be associated with an increased sternal wound infection rate. To decrease this risk of infection, an approach through a right thoracotomy, minimally invasive techniques, the use of skeletonized internal mammary artery, and broad spectrum antibiotic therapy may be considered.