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Breast Cancer Radiation Has Become Safer

Fewer Heart Disease Deaths for Women Treated with Radiation
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March 15, 2005 -- There's a new sign that breast cancer radiation treatmentbreast cancer radiation treatment is safer than ever. Fewer women than in the past died of heart disease within 15 years of receiving radiation treatment for breast cancer, a new study indicates.

"Risk of death from ischemic heart disease associated with radiation has substantially decreased over time," researchers write.

"This study should reassure all patients that radiation has become safer and there is little, if any, risk of future ischemic heart disease due to having received radiation," says researcher Sharon Giordano, MD, MPH, in a news release.

Still, more follow-up should be done, according to the study and accompanying editorial. "We owe it to women with breast cancer to remain vigilant," writes Jack Cuzick, PhD, in a journal editorial.

Reassurance for Radiation?

Many breast cancer patients get radiation after breast cancer surgery to help prevent cancer's return and improve survival.radiation after breast cancer surgery to help prevent cancer's return and improve survival. In 2002, the study shows 42% of women with breast cancer got radiation after surgery.

After a lumpectomy (breast-conserving surgery), radiation can cut the odds of cancer returning to the breast by two-thirds, say researchers. Radiation may also be recommended for breast cancer patients who undergo mastectomy (removal of the breast).

However, radiation treatment could raise a woman's risk of heart disease. While treating tumors in the breast, the radiation could graze over the heart, especially when treating breast cancer found in the left breast.

Over the years, new techniques have been developed to limit the heart's exposure to radiationnew techniques have been developed to limit the heart's exposure to radiation and reduce the risk of heart disease. Older techniques resulted in higher does of radiation to the heart.

New strategies seem to be working but deserve continued attention, since heart disease can take time to emerge.

"Important modifications to the fields used and individual patient planning have greatly reduced the cardiac dose," writes Cuzick, who works at London's Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine. "Excess cardiac deaths do not appear to be occurring in the more recent studies," he writes.

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