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By Scot Ackerman, M.D.


Radiation Therapy for the Treatment of Ventricular Tachycardia

Radiation therapy has long proved an effective treatment for shrinking or curing cancer, preventing cancer recurrence and reducing symptoms of metastatic cancer, but now, evidence shows radiation may also reduce the incidence of ventricular tachycardia, a life-threatening heart arrhythmia.

Ventricular tachycardia, sometimes called v-tach, often occurs when scar tissue develops on the heart after a heart attack. This scarring can disrupt the flow of the heart’s normal electrical impulses causing the heart to beat so rapidly it does not have time to properly fill. The condition compromises blood flow to the body and can even lead to sudden cardiac death.

Although ventricular tachycardia is typically treated with medication, ablation to destroy the scar tissue and/or through the use of implantable devices, not all patients respond to these therapies. In search of a more effective treatment method, radiation oncologists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, targeted five v-tach patients with implantable devices who had either failed to respond to, or were not candidates for, conventional ventricular tachycardia treatment therapies.

After pinpointing the precise location in the heart where the abnormal rhythm was initiated, a single-dose of radiation was delivered to the site. Since the treatment is non-invasive, the patients were immediately able to step off the treatment table and return home.

Within six weeks, the number of abnormal heart rhythm events experienced by the five patients dropped to almost zero, allowing them to discontinue medications to control the v-tach.

Of the five patients initially treated, the oldest died within the first month due to causes not likely related to the treatment, while the remaining four have survived for two years. Currently, the St. Louis researchers are enrolling patients in a clinical trial to further study the approach. To date, an additional 23 patients have been treated with single-dose radiation.

Currently, radiation is used to treat many conditions other than cancer. The therapy has been shown to successfully treat hyperthyroidism and keloid scars and can help prevent restenosis of coronary arteries of the heart and blood vessels in the extremities following angioplasty. It is also used to treat Dupuytren's contracture. At Ackerman Cancer Center, we offer radiation therapy for the treatment of Keloid scars, Dupuytren's contracture, and certain thyroid conditions.

I believe with continued research, we will likely find many more uses for radiation therapy. If you have any questions about the treatment of non-cancerous conditions with radiation therapy, please call us at (904) 880-5522. 

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