Cardio-Oncology: Radiation and Heart Disease

Understand Your Condition


What steps can you take to help reduce your risk of developing cardiotoxicity before, during and after radiation therapy? It's important to take care of your heart:

Well-controlled blood pressure is important during cancer treatment, and the goal blood pressure depends on your age and other medical problems. Due to some of the changes that cancer treatment may have on your diet, or other medications such as steroids that may be administered with chemotherapy or radiation treatment, your blood pressure may run higher or lower than usual during treatment. Therefore, it is not uncommon for people to require blood pressure medicine in lower or higher amounts during their cancer treatment.

Your blood pressure will be checked at every appointment during your treatment. If you are concerned that it is too high or too low, you can check your blood pressure at home and bring those readings with you to your appointments.

Radiation can cause atherosclerosis—the buildup of plaque in the arteries of the heart—to occur at a faster rate than would be expected naturally. We know that cholesterol also contributes to the development of atherosclerosis. Your primary health care professional or oncologist can check a fasting cholesterol panel, a type of blood test, and help you decide whether treatment of cholesterol will be helpful to you.


Currently, no medications have been shown to protect the heart from side effects of radiation treatment. However, with modern-day techniques aiming to limit cardiac exposure, it is expected that only a small fraction of patients will have long-term side effects of radiation.

Also, medications that treat underlying heart disease (coronary disease, heart failure) and risk factors (high blood pressure, high cholesterol) should be given to patients who also have those conditions.

Limit Exposure

Remember that newer radiation techniques appear to reduce the risk of radiation-induced cardiotoxicity. (See Radiation Techniques in the "Radiation Risks" section.)

< Exams and Tests

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.

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