Modern Radiation Therapy Causes Fewer Heart Problems

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Radiation therapy is an important part of treatment for many women with breast cancer. Like many cancer treatments, the side effects can be just as troublesome and scary as the cancer.

A new report is an important follow-up to an earlier Research News story on radiation and heart disease risk. The study is very good news and underscores the Breastcancer.org message in the earlier story.

Today, advances in technology make the heart and surrounding breast tissue much less likely to be exposed to radiation. In the study reviewed here, women with breast cancer who got radiation therapy with more advanced, safer techniques developed during the 1980s and 1990s had a lower risk of heart problems compared to women without breast cancer.

Computers now are used to plan radiation treatment that is extremely precise. The computer aims just the right amount of radiation only at tissue that needs to be treated. In addition, other new technologies give your radiation oncologist a wider and safer choice of radiation energy sources. Together, these two advances give your radiation oncologist the ability to avoid exposing your heart to radiation intended only for the breast area. Some newer radiation therapy equipment actually tracks heart beats and the movement of your lungs and effectively blocks those tissues from any radiation exposure. Researchers are working to develop even better, safer approaches to radiation therapy.

The take-home message from the earlier Research News story is worth repeating here. If radiation therapy is part of your treatment plan, ask your radiation oncologist if the technology being used is up-to-date. Talk to your radiation therapy treatment team about how they'll make sure that you get only the radiation therapy required to effectively treat the breast cancer.

Visit the breastcancer.org Radiation Section to learn more about how radiation therapy works, its risks and side effects.

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