Breast cancer treatment and heart damage: is it worth worrying about?
It’s a sad fact that many of the breast cancer therapies currently available can cause heart damage, but a new study conducted by the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg has provided some good news. According to their report, the risk of death from heart disease in breast cancer patients following radiotherapy or chemotherapy is no higher than it is among the average population.
We know that many of the breast cancer treatments – especially chemotherapy and radiotherapy – have done a lot to give women an excellent chance in their fight against breast cancer, but the fact remains that a number of clinical trials point to a correlation between chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment and an increased risk of developing heart disease.
In certain cases, patients who underwent either treatment may be at higher risk from death by heart disease than succumbing to breast cancer. So, when we undergo such treatment, are we just eliminating one risk in exchange for developing another? This was the conundrum that the DKFZ sought to investigate.
Getting to the heart of the matter
The study, headed up by Dr Hermann Brenner of the DKFZ, analysed data from almost 350,000 patients in America who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the years 2000-2011 and underwent radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Comparing that data like-for-like with the female average population in the United States, the researchers concluded that the long-term risk of mortality from heart disease is not higher following breast cancer treatment than in the average female population, be it chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Why is this? Well, experts are deducing that hospitals have caught up to the idea of good risk management, where the potential dangers are flagged up well in advance and by avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach to patient care. When a new patient checks in, their potential risk of suffering heart disease due to breast cancer treatment will be immediately taken into account when it’s time to select the choosing the best possible method of treatment.
Not only that, but testing for any side-effects on the heart are being conducted at certain points during the course of treatment, meaning that doctors can make the necessary ‘tweaks’ to the treatment quickly and effectively, in an attempt to nip any potential heart problems in the bud as soon as possible.
No need for heart-related stress
“We consider the result of our study to be very positive for the treatment of breast cancer,” says Dr Brenner, and he claims that the benefit-risk ratio in modern-day breast cancer treatment is of a high standard. “It is particularly good news for the large number of affected patients that if they are in good medical care and have survived breast cancer, they do not need to be more worried about deadly heart diseases than women at the same age without breast cancer.”
So, in short: while the risk of side-effects is still prevalent in today’s breast cancer treatment, the chances of developing heart disease whilst eliminating the risk of breast cancer should be one less thing to worry about.