Cancer patients may sometimes worry that treatment for their cancer might lead to another cancer down the road. Radiation therapy (radiotherapy) is of particular concern because radiation is known to cause cancer.
A recent study published in the Lancet Oncology journal found that cancer patients who were treated with radiotherapy were more likely to develop second cancers than patients with similar cancers who didn’t receive radiotherapy. Experts have known for many years that radiation therapy can increase cancer risk; however, this is the first study to compare the risk of second cancers among radiation-treated patients to a large group of similar patients who did not receive such treatment. The study estimated that about 8% of second cancers among patients who received radiation were due to the radiation, which translates to five excess cancers per 1,000 treated patients. This means that for every 1,000 patients who were treated with radiotherapy, 5 of them would have a second cancer caused by that radiation treatment.
Many types of cancer treatment can cause long-term effects, including second cancers. For example, some chemotherapy drugs increase the risk of developing leukemia, and young women who have high doses of radiation to the chest are at increased risk of developing breast cancer.
However, when cancer patients receive these treatments, their risk of serious illness and death from the cancer is much greater than the potential long term effects of the treatment. Declining cancer treatment because of fear of side effects could be very dangerous.… Continue reading →