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Treatment Of Breast Cancer Using Radiation Linked To Increased Chances Of H

Wednesday, August 14, 2013   by: Greener Ideal

radiation therapy

Over the years, radiation therapy has become an indispensible part of cancer treatment due to its highly effective outcomes. However, its effectiveness during as well as after cancer treatment has come under scrutiny. New research indicates that radiation therapy used for breast cancer treatment may have a link to increased chances of developing heart problems in future.

Women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer have been receiving standard treatment of lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy. This methodology is extremely effective and is considered to be almost as good as mastectomy in terms of reducing the rate of recurrence. The aim of radiation therapy is to destroy any cancer cells which may be left in the body after surgery. Experts believe that the overall prognosis for women suffering from early stage breast cancer is greatly improved with radiation therapy.

New study on radiation therapy

The effectiveness of radiation therapy is no doubt remarkable; however, its long term effects are being scrutinized by researchers. A study was conducted on women who were suffering from breast cancer and were treated using radiation therapy between 1958 to 2001. According to the study, these women had an increased risk of developing heart problems especially in the latter part of their lives. This iconic research was published in the May 2013 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study gathered data of 2168 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer and their treatment constituted radiation therapy between 1958-2001 in Sweden and Denmark. Their risk was then compared to the risk of those women who were diagnosed with breast cancer but whose treatment did not include radiation therapy.

The researchers discovered that for every gray (gray being the unit for measuring radiation) of radiation, the risk of exposing the heart to heart problems was increased by 7%. On an average, a woman who has cancer in the left breast receives a radiation dose of 6.6 gray whereas for one with cancer in the right breast receives 2.9 gray of radiation. This risk manifested within 5 years of the radiation, and lasted for nearly 20 years. It is important to note that those women who were already suffering from heart problems or had risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes etc. had an increased chances of suffering from aggravated heart conditions.

Discrepancies in the study

Although the study sheds a lot of light on radiation therapy and its long time effects, there are a few notable considerations as follows:

  • The study looked at the database between the years 1958 to 2001. However modern medicine and radiation therapy have undergone many changes and have advanced considerably. Today, exposure to vital organs such as the heart, lungs etc. has reduced to a great extent.
  • Use of computers has helped determine the right dosage and precise delivery.
  • New equipments such as respiratory gating specifically monitor the lung movement and heart rate, and block them from exposure to radiation.
  • Additionally, there are many tools that help the oncologist control the intensity of the radiation, depending on the patient’s condition.

Although this study is very important and relevant, it has considered only older radiation therapy techniques. New studies are imperative to study the effects of present day radiation therapy on the heart conditions.

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