Radiation and Heart Disease

If radiation therapy to treat cancer causes heart problems, the effect is known as cardiotoxicity.

Being told you have cancer is a life-changing experience for most patients and leads to many new concerns such as:

  • What is my prognosis ?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • How will my life be different with cancer?
  • How am I going to share this news with my loved ones?

Typically, concerns about the potential impact of cancer treatment on the heart are not among the first that come to mind. However, some patients with cancer may receive radiation therapy to the chest area, and these patients should be aware of the side effects that radiation therapy may cause to the heart. These potential adverse effects are known as radiation cardiotoxicity.

Radiation cardiotoxicity may affect the heart in various ways and at any time. Some conditions develop during or soon after treatment. Others become apparent years, or even decades, after treatment. The specific adverse effects depend on which area of the heart is affected, such as injury to the heart muscle, the heart lining, or blood vessels. Examples of the conditions that may develop include cardiomyopathy, coronary artery disease, and heart rhythm problems.

Radiation treatment can be delivered using several methods. The specifics of your treatment will influence your risk of developing radiation cardiotoxicity. In addition, many other factors may increase or decrease your risk, including age, additional cancer treatments, and other heart risk factors. Your oncologist (cancer doctor), radiation oncologist (radiation doctor), or cardiologist (heart doctor) will help you understand your unique risk from radiation.

Use this condition center to learn more about radiation cardiotoxicity, radiation techniques, and tips for healthy living after cancer treatment.


Published: November 2017
Authors: William Stokes, MD; Priscilla Stumpf, MD; Lavanya Kondapalli, MD; Arthur Liu, MD, PhD
Medical Reviewers: Bonnie Ky, MD, MSCE; Debra Madden, BA; Charles Porter, MD; Karen Lisa Smith, MD, MPH

These modules were developed in collaboration with the Eastern Cooperative Group—American College of Radiology Imaging Network (ECOG-ACRIN) Cardiotoxicity Working Group and Patient Advocacy Group.

Welcome to CardioSmart

Learn how to make the most of trusted heart health information, incentive programs, health tracking tools and mobile resources available at CardioSmart.org.

Infographic: Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

Patient Resource