Fifty consecutive patients with radiation-related problems of the chest wall were treated between 1976 and 1984. There were 40 women and 10 men with an average age of 54 years (range 26 to 78 years). Twenty-three patients had radiation ulcers alone, 20 had recurrent cancer, and 7 had infected median sternotomy wounds. Thirty-six had skeletal resections and 44 had soft-tissue resections. The skeleton was reconstructed with Prolene mesh in 12 patients and with autogenous rib in 3. Sixty-three muscles were transposed in 43 patients. Twelve omental transpositions were performed (8 for primary treatment and 4 for salvage of a failed muscle flap). Hospitalization averaged 20.2 days. There was one operative death (at 29 days). Partial flap necrosis occurred in 10 patients. Mesh was removed in three patients. There were 14 late deaths, most from recurrent tumor. The remaining patients had well-healed wounds and a generally improved quality of life. We conclude that aggressive resection and reliable reconstruction are critical considerations in the surgical management of this perplexing clinical problem.