THE BLOG
03/18/2013 01:13 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2013

Radiation Increases Heart Disease in Breast Cancer

A new article in the New England Journal of Medicine just came out showing that women who receive radiotherapy for breast cancer have a higher risk of ischemic heart disease.

The authors studied 2,168 women who had radiotherapy for breast cancer between 1958 and 2001 in Sweden and Denmark. Within five years of receiving the radiation, the women began having heart problems, and heart problems continued to surface for over 20 years after the radiation.

Not surprisingly, the greater the radiation dosage, the higher the risk of heart disease. The risk was greatest for women with preexisting cardiac risk factors. The good news is that since this study was done, the dosages of radiation women are exposed to have been lowered.

To me, this is a double whammy for women, because most breast cancer occurs after menopause, and estrogen is typically discouraged in women who have breast cancer. Estrogen seems to lower the risk of heart disease if started shortly after menopause. The removal of estrogen as a treatment option denies women the cardio-protective benefits of estrogen.

Until we find out the impact on heart disease of lower dosages of radiation in use today, this study provides women another important topic to discuss with her physician when considering treatment.

This is particularly important for women because as the video interview below explains, heart attack in women is typically a silent or atypical condition until it actually happens.

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