Breast Cancer Radiation Raises Heart Risk

But study's author says the benefits outweigh dangers
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 14, 2013 3:36 PM CDT
Breast Cancer Radiation Raises Heart Risk
A linear accelerator used to treat cancer at a hospital in Johnstown, Pa., from Sept. 19, 2102.   (AP Photo/Tribune-Democrat, John Rucosky)

A new study looks at the heart dangers posed by radiation in breast cancer treatment, but despite the 2,168-woman, 43-year survey, the meaning of the results comes down to who you ask. "This is a major concern," one oncologist tells USA Today, while a cardiologist warns that the study "may represent just the tip of the iceberg." However, the New York Times calls the increased danger "modest," and says the study shows that radiation's benefits far outweigh the added heart risks.

The study found the risk of heart disease increased by 7.4% for each "gray" (a unit that measures the absorption of radiation). The average woman in the study absorbed nearly 5 gray, but doctors point out that these days radiation absorption of 2 gray is more common, and new techniques can even keep it under 1. "It would be a real tragedy if this put women off having radiotherapy for breast cancer," says the lead author of the paper. You can see an abstract of the original paper at the New England Journal of Medicine. (Read more breast cancer stories.)

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