Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Left-sided breast cancer radiation spikes heart risk

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I hate it when I fit the mold for some not-so-great research finding. Like the recent news about how women with early-stage cancer of the left breast (that's me) who are treated with radiation following lumpectomy (me again) face an increased risk of developing radiation-related coronary damage.

OK, so the benefits of radiation therapy still outweigh the risks. Still, when radiation is applied to the breast on the same side as the heart, there are worries. I knew about these concerns. My radiation oncologist addressed them prior to my treatment. Hearing that an actual, important, convincing study confirms what I already knew may be a side effect, though, makes my heart race a little bit more.

There were 961 women with stage I and II breast cancer who were followed in this study. Well, the arteries in their hearts were studied anyway. Some had left-sided breast cancer; the others had right-sided. Some 12 years after radiation, 46 of the 485 left-sided women and 36 of the right-sided group needed cardiac stress testing. Among those tested, 59 percent in the left-sided group had abnormalities. Only 8 percent in the right-sided group showed problems.

On a positive note: now that I know this heart issue is for real, I can push for careful monitoring and long-term follow-up to assess my risk. And I can keep walking and running and eating right -- so I can keep my heart in tip-top, post-radiation shape.

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