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Breast cancer research puts radiation therapy on the hotseat.
Radiation treatment contributes to the development of heart disease and increases the chance of a heart attack in breast cancer patients, according to a new study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, said Reuters.
The findings claim that the risk to one's heart corresponds to the amount of radiation used and has long-lasting affects. Researchers said radiation's harm to heart health "begins within a few years after exposure, and continues for at least 20 years."
The research came from a study on some 2,000 patients in Sweden and Denmark, according to Reuters. The work was funded by the British government and private donors, said the Associated Press.
The news is likely to disturb the some three million breast cancer survivors in the US, not to mention millions of patients worldwide.
But the study's lead author, Dr. Sarah Darby of the University of Oxford, told Reuters in an email that the news "should not scare women off having radiotherapy," describing it as "a life-saving procedure."
Radiation therapy, the most common treatment for breast cancer, is disputed among medical professionals.
Some clinicians pointed out that this means radiation is just one of many factors contributing to heart weaknesses as women age. Dr. Javid Moslehi, who helps direct the cardio-oncology program at Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, told AP the reality is, heart disease is caused by "a number of strikes that go against you," for example, high cholesterol. "The radiation," he said, "is just another hit."
And the good news is, this "will raise the antenna" on keeping hearts as healthy as possible, said cardiologist Dr. David Slosky of Vanderbilt University, who treats cancer patients, according to AP.