TUESDAY, Dec. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Women who have breast cancer on the left side of the body and who are treated with radiation therapy have a higher risk of developing narrowing of the arteries that lead to the heart, researchers say.
A new Swedish study found that the risk of having moderately narrowed coronary arteries was more than four times greater for women who had left-sided breast cancers treated with radiation compared to right-sided breast cancers treated with radiation. The odds were seven times higher for more severe narrowing on the left side versus the right, according to the study published in the Dec. 27 online edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
"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," wrote study authors led by Dr. Greger Nilsson, of the department of oncology, radiology and clinical immunology at Uppsala University Hospital.
However, it's also important to note that of a group of 8,190 women who had breast cancer, just 199 had to be referred for coronary angiography (a treatment for blocked blood vessels).
"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," said Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Cancer treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy, are designed to destroy cancer cells. Unfortunately, healthy cells are often damaged, too. Treatment techniques are constantly being refined, and today's treatments target fewer healthy cells than treatments from years past.
For example, newer radiation techniques help protect the heart and the arteries leading to it, according to Dr. Timothy Zagar, an assi
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