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Radiotherapy: It causes heart problems, a fact the radiologist has known for 40 years

05 July 2007

Radiologists have known for years that radiotherapy for women who’ve had breast cancer dramatically increases the risk of heart disease.

It’s been a recognised side effect of the therapy since the 1960s, but radiologists have either denied it, downplayed the risks, or claimed that new techniques had eliminated the risk altogether.

But a major new trial – involving 4,414 women who had radiotherapy following treatment for breast cancer – has confirmed the risk is as real today as it ever was.

Nearly 22 per cent of the women suffered heart disease following therapy.  The risk was far greater in those who had radiotherapy to the surrounding healthy lymph nodes, which is common practice in order to stop the spread of the cancer.  The risk tripled among women who smoked, or who had smoked at some time.


  • Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2007; 99: 340-1