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Life Lessons: Protect yourself from breast cancer

By Nancy Werteen, Anchor / Reporter, NWerteen@wfmz.com
Published On: Oct 03 2013 04:00:00 AM CDT

While better treatment and technology are helping more women beat breast cancer, those same life-saving treatments could be harming their hearts.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women, with more than a million cases diagnosed each year.

While better treatment and technology are helping more women beat the disease, those same life-saving treatments could be harming their hearts.

Darla Morin is no stranger to this hospital room.

"I spent my lunch hour for four weeks here," Morin says.

Morin was diagnosed with breast cancer. But after undergoing a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation, she could finally say she's cancer-free.

Close to three million women in the United States are breast cancer survivors. But as those numbers rise due to improving treatments, doctors have to rethink the futures of their survivors.

"Doctors and researchers now have to place a greater emphasis on advances that can minimize long-term side effects of our cancer treatments," said Dr. Christine Phang, radiation oncologist at the University of Washington.

One of these side effects is an increased risk of heart disease.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine says radiation can make arteries more likely to harden and clog, leading to a heart attack, and can also cause valve and rhythm problems.

And these risks can last for decades after the treatment is over.

One thing breast cancer patients can do to protect their hearts is holding their breath for 20 seconds while they're given radiation.

"This actually expands the lungs and pushes the heart out of the way, away from the breast and also out of the radiation beam," Dr. Phang explained.

Exercise during and after treatment is also important, especially for women with risk factors like diabetes.

Also, stock up on flaxseed.

The vitamins and the omega-three fats in the seeds lower the risk of heart disease.

Studies show it can also help some treatments work better and slow cancer cell growth.

Finally, stay away from saturated and trans fats. The two are linked to heart disease and cancer recurrence.