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Nov 06, 2013

Radiation Could Increase Heart Disease Risk in Breast Cancer Patients

Dosage and location or position of treatment can slightly increase heart disease risk in some women.

Thanks to research and treatment options, breast cancer survival rates are higher than ever before. The only catch is that radiation treatment—an important part of many treatment plans for breast cancer—is linked to increased risk for heart disease, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

This study included 48 patients with breast cancer who underwent radiation therapy in 2005 at New York University. Researchers compared radiation doses and outcomes in hopes of determining whether the treatment location (left vs. ride side of the chest) or position during treatment (face up vs. face down) impacted heart disease risk down the road. After analyzing results, investigators found that receiving treatment on the left side of the chest, which is where the heart resides, exposed the heart to much higher doses of radiation compared to treatment on the ride side of the chest. Laying face-up during treatment also exposed the heart to an increased radiation dose, but only when treating the left side of the chest. And not surprisingly, the greater the radiation dose, the greater the risk for heart disease down the road.

The good news is that overall, they found that the lifetime risk of heart disease for breast cancer patients undergoing radiation is relatively low, ranging from 0.05% to 3.5%. In fact, the most common treatment scenarios only increase risk by 0.3% and those who experience the greatest risk are those already at risk for heart disease, like smokers.

Based on these findings, authors suggest that addressing risk factors for heart disease in patients receiving radiation therapy may help reduce risk of cardiac events later in life. If radiation treatment increases heart disease risk the most in patients already at risk for heart disease, it’s important to reduce risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity. Further, it’s crucial that steps are taken to minimize patients’ exposure to radiation as much as possible to help reduce risk of complications down the road. Together, these approaches can help minimize the long-term impacts of radiation treatment and further increase long-term breast cancer survival rates.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What are the risk factors for heart disease?
  • The most common risk factors for heart disease include increased age, tobacco use, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, stress, illegal drug use, lack of physical activity and family history of heart disease.
  • How can I reduce my risk for heart disease?
  • You can reduce your risk for heart disease by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a heart-healthy diet and staying physically active. Any additional risk factors, such as high blood pressurecholesterol and diabetes, should be properly addressed and controlled through lifestyle changes and working with your healthcare provider.

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