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Breast radiotherapy linked to heart death risk

Women who have radiotherapy for breast cancer have a increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, Dutch scientists say, but the danger is not as high as it used to be.
/ Source: Reuters

Women who have radiotherapy for breast cancer have a increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, Dutch scientists said Thursday, but the danger is not as high as it used to be.

Dr. Maartje Hooning of the Netherlands Cancer Institute told the Fourth European Breast Cancer Conference that improvements in radiotherapy techniques have changed the way the treatment is given.

But the therapy still results in about 12 extra cardiovascular deaths per 10,000 women who receive radiotherapy compared to patients who don’t.

“The good news is that the figures already show that the risks have decreased over time. We know that techniques have improved and the way radiotherapy is given has changed,” Hooning said.

Hooning and her colleagues studied 7,427 breast cancer patients ranging in age from 17 to 71 for 14 years or more. They found a 70 percent increase in cardiovascular deaths in women who had radiotherapy compared to those who didn’t.

Women who had the treatment to the chest wall on the left side, which can affect the heart, had a higher risk, along with patients who had radiotherapy following a mastectomy rather than a lumpectomy.

Radiotherapy destroys cancer cells in the area that is treated. It also reduces the risk of the cancer returning after surgery.

Women who have a lumpectomy, in which the tumor and some surrounding tissue is removed, have radiotherapy to kill any cancerous cells that may have been missed.

The Dutch scientists are now analyzing the number of cases of cardiovascular disease in patients included in the study.

“This will give us a more accurate view of CVD (cardiovascular deaths) risk than does mortality,” Hooning added.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in European women with 346,118 cases diagnosed in 2000. The Netherlands has the higher incidence of the disease in Europe with over 90 cases per 100,000.