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Radiation and Your Heart

Posted 3/26/2013

Posted in

  This is a delicate topic and one that can easily raise anxiety. Certainly, when we are first diagnosed with breast cancer, we are very focused on treating the cancer and staying healthy. As a little time passes, we may begin to think about the possible risks associated with cancer treatment. When those thoughts begin, an obvious concern is radiation to the left breast and possible damage to the heart.

  As I understand it, radiation techniques (both the mapping and the delivery itself of the treatment) have vastly improved over the years, and this is much less a worry than it used to be. Since, however, certain drugs used to treat breast cancr (e.g. Adria and herceptin) may also damage our hearts, this is  serious business. This is a short statement from Dr Jay Harris of DFCI (he used to be the Chief of Radiation Oncology here and was my doctor way back in 1993 when I had radiation) about this concern.

In a recent study, Oxford University researchers reported that although radiation therapy is a critical tool

for the treatment of women with breast cancer, it can also raise their risk of a heart attack or heart disease

later in life. The study was based on a review of medical records of 2,168 women in Sweden and Denmark

who received radiation therapy for breast cancer between 1958 and 2001, and who were under age 70 at

the time.

News coverage of the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, has drawn new attention to

the heart risks associated with radiation therapy even as it underscores such therapy’s role in improving

survival rates for breast cancer patients.

Jay Harris, MD, chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Dana-Farber, notes that radiation therapy

today is delivered more precisely and in smaller doses than when many of the women in the study were

treated, reducing the damage to nearby heart tissue.

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