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Radiotherapy for Breast Cancer Increases Risk for Coronary Heart Disease, Study

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Women's imaging news According to a new study, women with breast cancer on their left side who receive radiotherapy are at higher risk of narrowing of the arteries of their hearts. The study was carried out it Sweden and its details are reported in the Dec. 27 online edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Dr. Greger Nilsson, of the department of oncology, radiology and clinical immunology at Uppsala University Hospital, the lead author of the study, said "We suggest that the coronary arteries be regarded as organs at risk in radiation therapy, and that every effort be made to avoid radiation dose to the coronary arteries,"

Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said "Women need to be aware that there is a risk, but the overall risk is still relatively small, and the benefits of radiation in the treatment of breast cancer still outweigh the risks,"

Dr. Timothy Zagar, an assistant professor in radiation oncology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said that recent radiotherapy techniques are helping in reducing the effects of radiation on the heart and its arteries. For example, one of the techniques includes delivering radiation while the patient is taking deep breath. This technique ensures that the main cardiac arteries are away from the breast and chest wall, which results in reducing radiation delivered to the heart and its arteries.

The study involved revision of data of women in Sweden with breast cancer between 1970 and 2003. 8,190 women were involved; it was found that 199 women had coronary angiographies, which suggests they had coronary artery disease.

Yet, Dr. Zagar commented "I don't think this study's findings would justify changing from a lumpectomy [breast-conserving surgery] to a mastectomy [surgical removal of the breast]. Breast-conserving therapy is very important to many women, and the number of coronary events is still low,"


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