Most of us are aware of the common cancer treatment side effects like nausea or hair loss. Many don’t realize that more than one-third of people treated for cancer develop complications that affect the mouth. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy slow or stop growth of fast growing cells, such as cancer cells. Normal cells in the lining of the mouth also grow quickly, so these cancer treatments can stop them from growing too. In turn, this slows down the ability of oral tissue to repair itself by making new cells.
In the pursuit of malignant tumor cells, normal tissues and organs get caught in the crossfire of cancer treatment. This has been especially true of the heart. In earlier decades, radiation to the chest could carry deadly cardiovascular risks. Newer treatment methods, however, are putting the odds in patients’ favor.
“Technological advances now allow doctors to minimize cardiovascular risks of radiation therapy,” says Lori Jo Pierce, M.D., a U-M professor of radiation oncology. Her research focuses on the use of radiation therapy in the multi-modality treatment of breast cancer. Dr. Pierce is participating in the Cancer Center’s 2013 Breast Cancer Summit 2013 as a panel speaker on “Research: What questions are we trying to answer?”
Dr. Pierce recently talked with mCancer Partner about how technological advances help to minimize cardiovascular risks to breast cancer patients, and gave a research update on a related study.
mCancer Partner: Who is at risk for radiation associated heart disease?
Dr. Pierce: Anyone who is receiving radiation to the chest could be at risk for radiation-associated heart disease so it is important to shield the heart from the radiation beam. Patients treated with radiation for Hodgkin’s disease in the past were potentially at risk for cardiac disease depending upon the location of the blocks used to protect the heart. Women treated for left sided breast cancer are carefully monitored and planning is done to minimize the heart from being in the radiation field as they, too, could be at risk. Continue reading