Although doctors are telling patients not to panic, new research shows that women treated for breast cancer with radiation are “more likely to develop heart problems approximately 5 years after the treatment stops.” This can then last for decades.
The main thing to remember is that radiation has improved cancer survival rates, and that the chances of radiation induced heart problems are relatively small. For example, 4-5 of every 100 women aged 50 years or older and previously free of heart risks will develop a major cardiac problem by 80. Having radiation would only increase that risk by another year, according to the study.
While some chemotherapy drugs are know to harm the heart muscle, radiation has been found to hurt arteries, making them prone to clog and harden, which can then lead to a heart attack. Those who receive both treatments are therefore at risk for both. In fact, “artery related problems might just be the most visible of many risks because radiation can also cause valve, rhythm and other heart ailments,” noted Dr. Javid Moslehi of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
Women, however, can cut their risk by controlling their weight, cholesterol and blood pressure.