A new study has suggested that women who have survived breast cancer could be at risk of developing heart disease, due to the treatments used for cancer.
Research conducted by the Netherlands Cancer Institute tracked 14,645 breast cancer patients between 1970 and 2009.
Scientists examined their risk of heart disease, and found that those who had undergone radiotherapy and chemotherapy were at a higher risk of a cardiac arrest or heart failure.
11% of women who had undergone radiotherapy of the lymph nodes during their breast cancer treatment went on to develop some kind of heart disease. On the other hand, just 6% of women who had undergone different treatments were found to develop the disease.
The study also found that in the patients who had undergone radiotherapy, the rate of heart attacks was 50% higher than that of the general population.
The study also produced findings about the effects of chemotherapy on heart disease too. Researchers found that women who had received anthracycline-based chemotherapy experienced four times the rate of heart failure than patients who received other treatment.
However, researchers also stated that the risks have improved over time.
They noted that women are now regularly given a drug called taxane along with their treatment, to reduce the risks of heart disease.
More modern methods of radiotherapy are now used too, which are thought to provide a reduced risk to the heart.
Melanie Sturtevant, Policy Manager at Breast Cancer Now, commented on the study’s findings to The Telegraph. She noted that while the research is significant, patients should not be unduly concerned – as the benefits of treatment usually outweight the risk.
She said, “This vital study highlights the importance of all patients being informed about how the benefits of their treatment weigh up with the risks – but we’d urge them not to be unduly concerned by these findings.
“While chemotherapy and radiotherapy can have some difficult side-effects, they are incredibly effective options for so many patients and remain the cornerstones of breast cancer treatment.”
It’s also important to note that the percentage of women who go on to develop heart disease after treatment is still quite low – considering that other lifestyle factors could also play a part in their risk of developing the disease.
However, experts from the study warned that women who have had breast cancer treatment should undergo screening to check their heart health, in order to protect them from the common disease.