The Huffington Post reported last evening on the results of a new study which suggests a concerning link between radiation treatment in breast cancer patients and an increased risk for heart related issues later on. Although today's radiation treatments use significantly lower doses than in the past, the risks are attributed to any amount of radiation. According to the study, risks begin five years after treatment and continue for more than 20 years after.
The study, financed by both British government agencies and private foundations, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It involved 2,168 breast cancer patients from Denmark and Sweden who were diagnosed between 1958 and 2001. Each underwent radiation treatments. A total of 963 participants either suffered a heart attack, required a procedure to unblock arteries or died from heart related illness during the years after the radiation treatment had ended. The study revealed that harm from radiation is more significant that earlier suspected, especially for women who already have cardiac risk factors such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
In an editorial published along with the study results, Doctor Javid Mosiehi, co-director of the cardio-oncology program at Boston's Dana -Farber Cancer Institute, said, " The artery related problems that the study tracked may be just the most visible of many risks because radiation also can cause valve, rhythm and other heart troubles. Like cancer, heart disease develops after a number of strikes that go against you, such as high cholesterol. The radiation is just another hit."
More than one million cases of breast cancer are diagnosed annually on a global basis, and treated with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of all three. Doctor Bruce Haffty, associate director of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey and president-elect of the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) said, "Don't forgo radiation if it's recommended because it is lifesaving and doctors increasingly have ways to shield the heart from exposure. Wherever cardiac risks may be there, they are outweighed by the cancer benefit."