Scientists show link between breast radiotherapy and heart death risk

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Dutch scientists have released a study which says that women who have radiotherapy for breast cancer have an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

There is somewhat of a bright side to the report -- the danger is not as high as it has been in the past, due to improvements in radiotherapy techniques that have changed treatment methods.

Maartje Hooning, MD, of the Netherlands Cancer Institute, presented the findings this week at the European Breast Cancer Conference in Hamburg, Germany. The study found approximately 12 extra cardiovascular deaths per 10,000 women who receive radiotherapy compared to patients who don't.

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.