Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Breast Cancer Radiation May Affect Heart Later On

But expert says cancer-fighting benefits outweigh heart-disease risks

continued...

The risk started within five years after treatment and persisted into the third decade.

The proportional increase was similar in women with and without heart disease risk factors (such as high blood pressures) at the start. Those with pre-existing risk factors, however, had greater absolute increases in risk.

To put the finding in perspective, for a 50-year-old woman with no pre-existing heart disease risk factors, a dose to the heart of 3 grays would increase the risk of death from ischemic heart disease before age 80 from 1.9 percent to 2.4 percent, Taylor said.

Doctors should identify women with pre-existing heart disease risk factors and those with a small distance between heart and breast and give the radiation in a way that minimizes heart exposure, Taylor said.

Editorial author Moslehi, who also is an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said the study results are important, but not entirely reassuring. "It suggests that women should worry about heart disease risk after radiation therapy," he said. The new findings "may be just the tip of the iceberg," he said.

Taylor's team did not look at all types of heart problems, Moslehi said. Radiation therapy has been linked with other cardiac problems, including heart rhythm issues and valve problems.

In addition, he said, some chemotherapy has been linked with heart risks.

Until more research is in, Moslehi said women should be sure their primary-care doctor knows if they had radiation therapy for breast cancer. The doctor should also evaluate other cardiac risk factors, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, he added.

Study author Taylor said cardiologists and oncologists have been communicating more in recent years.

Women should not only get help from their doctors to reduce their heart disease risk, she said, but pay attention to heart-healthy habits. They should eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and not smoke cigarettes, she said.

1|2

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
 
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
 
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
VIDEO
Resolved To Quit Smoking
SLIDESHOW
 
Woman getting mammogram
Article
Screening Tests for Women
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
serious woman
Article
 
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow
SLIDESHOW