Radiation-associated cardiovascular disease

Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2003 Jan;45(1):55-75. doi: 10.1016/s1040-8428(01)00227-x.


As the number of cancer survivors grows because of advances in therapy, it has become more important to understand the long-term complications of these treatments. This article presents the current knowledge of adverse cardiovascular effects of radiotherapy to the chest. Emphasis is on clinical presentations, recommendations for follow-up, and treatment of patients previously exposed to irradiation. Medline literature searches were performed, and abstracts related to this topic from oncology and cardiology meetings were reviewed. Potential adverse effects of mediastinal irradiation are numerous and can include coronary artery disease, pericarditis, cardiomyopathy, valvular disease and conduction abnormalities. Damage appears to be related to dose, volume and technique of chest irradiation. Effects may initially present as subclinical abnormalities on screening tests or as catastrophic clinical events. Estimates of relative risk of fatal cardiovascular events after mediastinal irradiation for Hodgkin's disease ranges between 2.2 and 7.2 and after irradiation for left-sided breast cancer from 1.0 to 2.2. Risk is life long, and absolute risk appears to increase with length of time since exposure. Radiation-associated cardiovascular toxicity may in fact be progressive. Long-term cardiac follow-up of these patients is therefore essential, and the range of appropriate cardiac screening is discussed, although no specific, evidence-based screening regimen was found in the literature.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Heart / radiation effects*
  • Humans
  • Mediastinum / radiation effects*
  • Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Radiation Injuries / etiology*
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects*