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Radiation-induced Atrial Fibrillation

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Radiation-induced atrial fibrillation is a fancy way of saying that radiation given in the chest area can cause damage to the patient’s heart. That damage can result in atrial fibrillation aka Afib aka AF.

I am a long-term cancer survivor who was diagnosed with chemotherapy-induced cardiomyopathy in December of 2010 fully 15 years after I underwent the cardiotoxic chemo regimens that damaged my heart causing Afib. You are correct. I underwent a number of cardiotoxic chemo regimens.

Once I began researching long-term side effects from chemo and radiation to the patient’s heart, I cam across a series of studies documenting radiation as a cause of heart damage as well as cardiotoxic chemo regiments.

If you are about to undergo radiation therapy or if you have recently completed radiation therapy I encourage you to learn about possible long-term side effects

Long-term Side Effects of Radiation

What are all the possible long-term side effects of radiation therapy?

  1. Radiation Fibrosis Syndrome: This condition involves scarring and thickening of tissues in the radiation field. It can lead to stiffness, pain, and restricted movement in the affected area.
  2. Radiation Dermatitis: Skin in the treatment area may become red, dry, and itchy during radiation therapy. In the long term, it may lead to changes in skin texture, pigmentation changes, and increased sensitivity to sunlight.
  3. Radiation-induced Second Cancers: Although rare, exposure to radiation can increase the risk of developing a second cancer later in life, especially in the area that received radiation treatment.
  4. Radiation-induced Organ Dysfunction: Radiation therapy can damage healthy cells in nearby organs, leading to long-term dysfunction. For example, radiation to the chest area may increase the risk of heart problems, and radiation to the abdomen may affect gastrointestinal function.
  5. Lymphedema: Radiation therapy can damage the lymphatic system, leading to fluid buildup and swelling in the limbs, particularly if lymph nodes are removed or irradiated.
  6. Infertility: Radiation therapy to the pelvic area or reproductive organs can impair fertility in both men and women.
  7. Bone Health: Radiation therapy can affect bone density, leading to an increased risk of fractures in the long term.
  8. Cognitive Changes: In cases where the brain is irradiated, patients may experience cognitive changes, such as memory problems and difficulty concentrating, though these are more common with higher doses of radiation.

Are there therapies to reduce or even prevent radiation-induced atrial fibrillation? Yes. The challenge is that these therapies are evidence-based but are non-conventional. Meaning, they have not been evaluated by the FDA.

Consider nutritional supplementation before and immediately following radiation administration. Also consider hyperbaric oxygen therapy as soon as possible once you have completed your radiation. 

Are you considering undergoing radiation therapy? Or have you already completed radiation therapy? Have you developed symptoms of radiation-induced atrial fibrillation? Let me know- David.PeopleBeatingCancer@gmail.com 

Hang in there,

David Emerson

  • Cancer Survivor
  • Cancer Coach
  • Director PeopleBeatingCancer

“Recent research conducted by Dr. Gerard Walls and his team at the Patrick G. Johnston Centre for Cancer Research, Queen’s University Belfast, has unveiled a critical finding regarding the relationship between radiotherapy doses and the emergence of heart arrhythmias, particularly atrial fibrillation, in cancer patients. This study, rooted in analyses from the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre, marks a significant stride towards optimizing cancer treatment while minimizing cardiovascular side effects…

The research has pivotal implications for the future of cancer treatment, especially for patients undergoing radiotherapy for lung cancer. By identifying the pulmonary veins at the back of the heart as a high-risk area for radiation-induced arrhythmia, oncologists can now tailor treatment plans more carefully. This personalized approach aims to mitigate the risk of heart issues while maintaining the efficacy of cancer therapy…

By educating patients about potential symptoms and closely monitoring heart health during and after treatment, oncologists can significantly improve the cancer recovery process…

Dr. Walls’ work highlights the potential to reduce the burden of radiotherapy side effects, ensuring that patients not only survive their cancer but also thrive in their recovery. With this new knowledge, the medical community is better equipped to address the complex needs of cancer patients, balancing the fight against cancer with the preservation of heart health…”

Cancer Radiation Therapy May Be Associated With Atrial Fibrillation

Background: The association of atrial fibrillation (AF) with cancer and cancer types is inconclusive. Similarly, data regarding the association of AF with different cancer therapies are controversial…

Results: A total of 14,600 patients were analyzed. Compared to non-cancer patients (n = 6,801), cancer patients (n = 7,799) had a significantly higher prevalence of AF (4.3 vs. 3.1%; p < 0.001). However, following correction for covariates in a multivariable logistic regression model, malignancy was not found to be an independent risk factor for AF (p = 0.32).

While patients with solid tumors had a numerically higher prevalence of AF than those with hematological malignancies (4.3 vs. 4.1%), tumor type was not independently associated with AF (p = 0.13). AF prevalence was higher in patients receiving chemotherapy (4.1%), radiation therapy (5.1%), or both (6.9%) when compared to patients not receiving any therapy (3.6%, p = 0.01). On multivariable logistic regression, radiation therapy remained an independent risk factor for AF for the entire study population (p = 0.03) as well as for the cancer population (p < 0.01).

Conclusions: Radiation therapy for cancer is an independent risk factor for AF. The known association between cancer and AF may be mediated, at least in part, by the effects of radiation therapy…”





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