Long-term effects of adjuvant treatment for breast cancer on carotid plaques and brain perfusion.



We included 173 breast cancer survivors exposed to radiotherapy and chemotherapy, assessed ± 21.2 years after cancer diagnosis, and 346 age-matched cancer-free women (1:2) selected from the population-based Rotterdam Study. Outcome measures were carotid plaque score, intima-media thickness (IMT), total cerebral blood flow (tCBF), and brain perfusion. Additionally, we investigated the association between inclusion of the carotid artery in the radiation field (no/small/large part), tumor location, and these outcome measures within cancer survivors.


On average two decades post-diagnosis, breast cancer survivors had lower tCBF and brain perfusion than cancer-free women. Also, survivors with a larger area of the carotid artery within the radiation field had a larger IMT. Future studies should confirm if these cerebrovascular changes underlie the frequently observed cognitive problems in cancer survivors.


Cancer survivors had lower tCBF (- 19.6 ml/min, 95%CI - 37.3;- 1.9) and brain perfusion (- 2.5 ml/min per 100 ml, 95%CI - 4.3;- 0.7) than cancer-free women. No statistically significant group differences were observed regarding plaque score or IMT. Among cancer survivors, a large versus a small part of the carotid artery in the radiation field was associated with a higher IMT (0.05, 95%CI0.01;0.09). Also, survivors with a right-sided tumor had lower left carotid plaque score (- 0.31, 95%CI - 0.60;- 0.02) and higher brain perfusion (3.5 ml/min per 100 ml, 95%CI 0.7;6.2) than those with a left-sided tumor.


Breast cancer treatment has been associated with vascular pathology. It is unclear if such treatment is also associated with long-term cerebrovascular changes. We studied the association between radiotherapy and chemotherapy with carotid pathology and brain perfusion in breast cancer survivors.

More about this publication

Breast cancer research and treatment
  • Volume 186
  • Issue nr. 1
  • Pages 167-176
  • Publication date 01-02-2021

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