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According to a recent article published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, patients who received radiation to the chest for treatment of Hodgkin’s disease at a young age have a high rate of heart (cardiac) complications several years following treatment. Patients who underwent this treatment should be monitored closely and routinely for cardiovascular defects.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a cancer of the lymph system, which is part of the immune (infection fighting) system that includes blood vessels, bone marrow, lymph nodes and lymph vessels that are present throughout the body. It also includes organs such as the spleen, thymus and tonsils. This cancer is characterized by the presence of the uncontrollable growth and division of atypical white blood cells (immune cells) that crowd lymph tissue, suppressing the formation and function of other cells normally found in this tissue. Often, Hodgkin’s lymphoma invades the lymph nodes in the chest area, and patients may be treated with radiation to the chest. Results from studies have demonstrated that long-term survivors of cancer who have received previous treatment with radiation to the chest are at an increased risk of death from heart complications; however, these studies have included patients with all types of cancers who were treated at various ages.

Researchers from several institutions recently conducted a clinical study to evaluate the effects of chest radiation in patients who had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at a young age. This study included 48 patients who had been diagnosed and treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma approximately 14 years ago, at an average age of 16.5 years. All patients filled out a questionnaire regarding quality of life and were tested for cardiac abnormalities. All patients responded that their quality of life was good or better and that they suffered from no symptoms that may be associated with cardiac defects. Results from tests performed indicated that all patients, except for one, had cardiac abnormalities that put them at risk for significant decreases in physical function and possible death from cardiac disease if left untreated.

The researchers concluded that long-term heart complications with no accompanying symptoms are common among patients who were treated with radiation to the chest for Hodgkin’s disease at a fairly young age. The researchers stated that serial monitoring for cardiac function should be implemented in these patients; however, further studies are needed to determine the optimal monitoring scheduling. Patients who were treated with radiation to the chest for Hodgkin’s disease should speak with their physician about screening for cardiac function.

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Reference: Adams J, Lipsitz S, Colan S, et al. Cardiovascular Status in Long-Term Survivors of Hodgkin’s Disease Treated With Chest Radiotherapy. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2004;15:3139-3148.

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