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



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.


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.


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.


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.

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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