A recent study found a possible link between ischemic heart disease and breast cancer. But the side of the body cancer develops (left or right) on may determine the risk.
Ischemic heart disease is a condition of recurring chest pain or discomfort that occurs when a part of the heart does not receive enough blood. This condition occurs most often during exertion or excitement when the heart requires greater blood flow. Radiotherapy is associated with ischemic heart disease because of the incidental exposure it causes to the heart.
Let’s look at the study, what was found, and what you can take away from the results.
Swedish researchers looked for a link between heart disease and breast cancer by comparing all women diagnosed with breast cancer from 1992 to 2012 (more than 60,000 women) with more than 300,000 women, who were about the same age, but had no history of breast cancer.
Results show that women given radiation therapy for left-sided breast cancer between 1992 and 2012 had an increased risk of ischemic heart disease compared to women treated for right-sided breast cancer. Researchers point out that these women were treated in the era of three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3DCRT).
3D conformal radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that shapes the radiation beams to match the shape of the tumor.
In the past, radiation beams only matched the height and width of the tumor — exposing healthy tissue to radiation. Advances in imaging technology have made it possible to locate and treat the tumor more precisely.
In this case, the link between heart disease and breast cancer is radiation therapy. Researchers say the incidental cardiac radiation exposure and the ischemic heart disease risk increases with the amount of radiation that is used. That’s why the study’s authors say the results emphasize the importance of further developing and implementing radiation therapy techniques that decrease the potential risks that are exposed to the heart, without compromising the beneficial effects.
They say that although the rate of ischemic heart disease events after radiation therapy is relatively low, long-term side effects of adjuvant treatment should be taken into consideration, to ensure health and quality of life for breast cancer survivors.
Ischemic heart disease can lead to serious complications, including heart attack. If a coronary artery becomes completely blocked, the lack of blood and oxygen can lead to a heart attack that destroys part of the heart muscle. The damage can be serious and sometimes fatal.
All breast cancer survivors should talk to their doctor about closely monitoring their cardiovascular risk factors.
You can learn more about screenings like these in our guide: “Cardiology Tests That Are Helping Healthy Hearts Stay Healthy.” In fact, one of these tests can actually predict your risk for heart attack over the next 10 years.