Radiation and heart disease…the hidden link.
Can the very thing that helps stop breast cancer in its tracks also increase a woman’s risk of developing heart disease? Does the apparent risk outweigh the benefits you can get from opting to undergo radiation? Here’s the underlying truth about this issue.
Radiation and Increased Risk of Heart Disease: What You Need to Know
According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the risk begins a few years after the exposure and may continue to persist for at least 20 years. In addition, the risk is proportional to the amount of radiation received by the patient. Considering the fact that there are about 3 million breast cancer survivors and that another 232,000 women are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year alone in the US, this report is bound to be controversial right from the very start.
After studying the records of more than 2,000 breast cancer survivors who underwent radiation between 1958 and 2001, researchers found that about half of the women experienced major coronary events and that the risk was proportional to the radiation dose received during their treatment. They concluded that for every unit of radiation (gray), the risk of developing heart disease increased by about 7.4 percentage points.
Taking this into consideration, a healthy 50 year old woman with no pre-existing heart risk factors who received 3 gray would increase her risk of developing heart disease by 1.9% over the next 30 years.
However, the author of the study reassured people that the results of their study should not prevent women from having radiation treatments. After all, the risk is negligible as compared to the benefits you stand to gain from undergoing such a procedure.
Experts are also doing their part in an effort to reduce the risks. They are continually trying to find ways on how they can use lower levels of radiation to stop the cancer cells from spreading. Specialists also found a way to further minimize the heart’s exposure to radiation by synchronizing the radiation beams with the patient’s breathing.
Protecting Yourself from the Risks
To reduce the risk of heart disease resulting from radiation, you should start living a healthier lifestyle. You should adopt a healthy diet, be physically active, maintain a healthy weight range and avoid smoking. You should also manage your risks more effectively through early screening and taking the necessary medications.
Just because you’ve had radiation doesn’t mean you have to suffer the consequences. Take care of yourself more carefully and you can keep yourself out of harm’s way.