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« Wendy in Washington | Main | Cancer in America »

June 19, 2010


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Dianne Duffy


I have been looking for resources on this topic, but not finding many. Please publish the names of books or other resources.
Thanks, Dianne Duffy

Ashleigh Moore

Wendy, I had 30 rounds of radiotherapy 5 years ago for a T4N2B SCC of the tonsil that had spread to tongue and neck lymph glands. Treatment also included a radical neck dissection. I have recovered well however last year began suffering atrial fibrillation during exercise. Is this a condition that you would attribute to the late affects of radiotherapy? Thanks Ashleigh

Wendy S. Harpham, M.D.

Dear Ashleigh,

It would depend on what total dose you received, as well as which tissues were included in the radiation field.

Different conditions can be associated with atrial fibrillation, an irregularly irregular heartbeat.

For example, hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) can cause atrial fibrillation. Since hypothyroidism is a common late effect of radiation to the neck, atrial fibrillation can be caused indirectly by radiation therapy that does not include the heart in the field of treatment.

To optimize your post-treatment medical care:
* Seek the advice of physicians who are familiar with both the details of your personal cancer history and the known late effects of the treatments you received.
* Undergo evaluation for the different causes of atrial fibrillation, instead of just treating the rhythm disturbance.
* Learn about modifiable risk factors that may be playing a role. For example, take steps to minimize your risk of vascular disease: Eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise (physician-approved), achieve and maintain optimal weight, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, and, of course, don't smoke.

I hope this helps. With hope, Wendy

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