Cardiac risks of breast-cancer radiotherapy: a contemporary view

C W Taylor, P McGale, S C Darby
Clinical Oncology: a Journal of the Royal College of Radiologists 2006, 18 (3): 236-46
For some time, there has been compelling evidence both from randomised-controlled trials and from observational studies, that some of the breast-cancer radiotherapy regimens used in the past have led to increased risk of mortality from heart disease. There is also some evidence that the more recent regimens used in the USA are associated with lower risks than previous ones, but it is not clear whether current regimens are free from cardiac risk, especially in the light of recent evidence from the survivors of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in whom a clear relationship was observed between the risk of mortality from heart disease and radiation dose for doses in the range 0-4 Gy. Mortality from radiation-induced heart disease usually occurs at least a decade after irradiation. Symptomatic heart disease might have a much shorter induction period, but little information about it is available at present. Subclinical vascular abnormalities have been observed within months of irradiation, via myocardial perfusion imaging studies, but little is known about the relationship between these and later overt heart disease. At present, few data relate heart dose and other specific characteristics of breast radiotherapy to cardiac outcome. Further information on these topics is needed to enable estimation of the cardiac risk, that is likely to arise from radiotherapy regimens in current use and from those being considered for future use. Such knowledge would facilitate radiotherapy treatment planning and enable a reduction in cardiac risk while maintaining the known benefit in terms of breast cancer mortality.

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