Radiotherapy increases leukemia risk in breast cancer patients

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By David Liu, PHD

Wednesday March 13, 2013 ( -- Radiotherapy for breast cancer can increase the risk for developing myelodysplastic syndromes and acute myeloid leukemia (MDS/AML), according to a new study recently published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

Henry Kaplan from Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle, Washington USA and colleagues conducted the study and found women with stage 0 breast cancer who received radiation therapy were more than twice as likely as those who did not receive the treatment to develop myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukemia.

The risk of developing myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukemia was increased by 46 percent in women after receiving radiotherapy for breast cancer, compared with those who did not receive the treatment.

Ionizing radiation used in medical diagnostics like mammography and CT scans and cancer treatments has been known for ages to cause all types of malignancies including myeloid leukemia.  The current study was intended to examine the risk of myeloid leukemia from radiation treatment indicated for breast cancer.
The data used for the study came from the 2001–2009 Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database records in which patients with stage 0  breast cancer who received radiotherapy and those who did not receive the treatment.  And cases of myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukemia were identified in the cohort.

It was found that those breast cancer patients who were treated with radiation therapy were at 134 percent increased the risk for myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukemia, compared with the general population.  After adjustment for age, the risk was increased by 46 percent.

The researchers concluded "Our results suggest that radiation treatment for BC is associated with an increased risk of MDS/AML and affects a very small number of patients."

Breast cancer is expected to strike one in eight women in their lifetime and every year 230,000 women in the U.S. are expected to be diagnosed with the disease and the disease and its complications kill about 37,000 per year in the country.

Breast cancer in many cases are prevented by following a healthier lifestyle.  There are many things women can do or not do to prevent the disease.  An authoritative organization says that two things for sure  that increase breast cancer risk are medical radiation and hormone replacement therapy although many other factors may also play a role.

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