Radiation-Associated Heart Disease

With dramatic improvements in cancer treatments, there are now an estimated 18 million cancer survivors in the United States.

Radiation-associated heart disease is a side effect of radiation treatment to the chest. At first, radiation treatment to the chest may cause inflammation. Over time, the tissue can get scarred and tough. This is called fibrosis.

Radiation can affect several heart structures inside the chest:

  • Heart valves
  • Heart muscle
  • Coronary arteries
  • Aorta
  • Pericardium
  • Electrical (conduction) system of the heart

Radiation-associated heart disease may occur in people that have had radiation treatment to the chest for cancer, including:

  • Breast cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Lung cancer

Physicians and scientists have developed safer radiation treatments to lower the risk of developing radiation-associated heart disease. However, side effects of radiation can surface years or even decades after treatment.

Radiation-associated heart disease may include:

A heart affected by radiation is unique. It requires treatment options different from other forms of heart disease. The cardiovascular team at Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute understands this. We are experts at diagnosing and treating radiation-associated heart disease.

Our renowned, multidisciplinary team of cardiologists and heart surgeons helps patients manage this lifelong condition. With careful consideration, the team will work with you to determine the best type and timing of treatment. Timing of treatment is important and depends on the individual patient’s symptoms and where they are in their care journey.

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Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute is a nationally recognized destination for those who require highly specialized cardiovascular care.
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