A new study has found an increased risk of heart problems in women who are treated for breast cancer with radiation therapy.
The study, led by Dr. Sarah Darby of the University of Oxford, involved 2,168 breast cancer patients from Sweden and Denmark diagnosed between 1958 and 2001 and treated with radiation.
Included were 963 women who suffered a heart attack, needed an artery-opening procedure or died of heart artery-related causes in the years after their radiation treatment. The remainder were similar patients who did not develop heart problems.
The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, indicated that radiation treatment will add an additional case to an existing statistic that four to five out of every 100 women age 50 and free of heart risks will develop major cardiac problems by age 80.
In addition, some medications used as chemotherapy to eradicate the cancer are known to harm the heart muscle.
But the new research shows that radiation can damage arteries, making them more fragile and vulnerable to hardening and clogging, thus leading to a subsequent heart attack.
Women who receive radiation treatments and follow-up chemotherapy face both risks, but are advised by physicians that keeping their weight, cholesterol and blood pressure under control will do a lot to cut their risks.
More than a million cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year worldwide.
Recently researchers at the Hebrew University Institute of Medical Research Center discovered a mechanism by which breast cancer cells switch on their aggressive cancerous behavior.
The discovery provides a valuable marker for the early diagnosis and follow-up treatment of malignant growths.