March 25, 2013 8:00 am

Dr. Kris Gast ~ Ask the Pros

Posted in: Ask the Pros

Radiation Oncologist at Fort Smith Radiation OncologyQ: I read in a national health news article that radiation treatment for women with breast cancer can actually hurt them and cause heart problems later.  Is this true?


A: It is well known that the treatments used to kill cancer cells can also cause lasting and sometimes permanent side effects.   Chemotherapy drugs can damage organs such as the liver, brain, lungs, and bone marrow.  Radiation treatments can cause scar tissue in any area of the body that the radiation passes through.  Both chemotherapy and radiation can cause a secondary cancer to occur decades later.  The study you are referring to in the national press reported that women treated with radiation for breast cancer are more likely to develop heart problems later.  But, the study only showed that normally 4 to 5 of every 100 women will develop a major cardiac problem by age 80, and radiation treatment would add just one more case.  When a person is diagnosed with cancer, a candid discussion should be held with their doctor to review the side effects of their treatment options.   The person will then need to decide if they would like to proceed based on the risk of treatment (side effects) versus the benefit (cure) of the treatment.

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