Radiation therapy keeps arteries clear

3:46pm, January 29, 2001

Each year, about 500,000 people in the United States have their clogged heart arteries cleared by angioplasty. In the costly, sometimes risky procedure, a surgeon reopens the artery by inserting, inflating, and then removing a tiny balloon. But for about half the patients, the treated artery reclogs within 6 months.

Two new studies add to a growing body of evidence that radiation applied within an artery might reduce that recurrence rate.

Recently, surgeons have been inserting stents, or metal mesh cylinders, into arteries after angioplasty to hold them open longer. However, the stents don't always avoid the problem of repeat clogging, or restenosis, caused by the buildup of scar tissue from injury during angioplasty.

Earlier studies suggested that among patients with stents, those exposed briefly to a localized dose of radiation are significantly less likely to have the stent become clogged than are patients who received no radiation (SN: 6/14/97, p. 364).

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