Breast cancer treatment and heart disease—what you need to know

February 14, 2018 by Allison Perry, University of Kentucky

Recently, the American Heart Association published a striking statement for women who have undergone chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment for breast cancer: namely, that these therapies can contribute to heart failure or other heart problems, even many years after the conclusion of cancer treatment.

If you are being treated for breast cancer or even if you are a survivor, this is troubling news. However, not all therapies may cause and there are ways to potentially minimize your risk.

Which therapies have the highest risk?

Oncologists have long counseled patients about the risks for many life-saving cancer drugs. Two major classes of drugs, linked to , are anthracyclines and Herceptin (also known as trastuzumab). Their effects are very different.

Anthracyclines, including drugs like doxorubicin, can cause profound and long lasting effects on . These effects, however, are dose-dependent and oncologists monitor the doses very carefully. Herceptin typically causes milder cardiac damage which is also mostly reversible. Radiation can cause arteries to narrow or develop blockages.

How can I minimize the risk to my heart from cancer treatment?

Because of these side effects of cancer drugs, you probably had to have an echocardiogram – an ultrasound examination of the heart – to make sure your heart is healthy and can withstand the treatment.

Sometimes physicians may recommend altering therapy to avoid the possibility of heart damage. For example, instead of giving certain chemotherapies in one large dose, they may be less risky if given more slowly. And common cardiac medications like beta blockers may be able to reduce or prevent the damage to the heart.

What should I do if I've had these treatments in the past?

The most important thing is to just be aware of your risk for heart problems, and to pay attention to your body. Fatigue, palpitations, shortness of breath, swelling—these are just a few symptoms of and are often overlooked. Know specific drugs you took for breast cancer. If you're seeing a new doctor, or coming into the emergency department, make sure they know about your history with .

How can I reduce my risk of heart disease following breast cancer treatment?

Living a healthy lifestyle—managing your weight, eating well, exercising, and keeping an eye on your blood pressure and cholesterol—can help reduce your chances of developing heart problems.

Major research is currently underway on this particular problem, and we hope that soon we can find ways to lessen or eliminate these potential risks to the heart from therapies.

Explore further: Doctors warn of heart risk from some breast cancer therapies

Related Stories

Doctors warn of heart risk from some breast cancer therapies

February 1, 2018
Save your life but harm your heart? Health experts are sounding a warning as potential side effects of a growing number of breast cancer treatments come to light.

Breast cancer treatments may increase the risk of heart disease

February 1, 2018
Breast cancer patients may be at an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases including heart failure and may benefit from a treatment approach that weighs the benefits of specific therapies against potential damage to the ...

AHA: breast cancer patients at increased risk for CV disease

February 1, 2018
(HealthDay)—Due to shared risk factors and impact on heart health from cancer treatment, comprehensive care is necessary for breast cancer patients to optimize both cancer treatment and cardiovascular health, according ...

Many breast cancer patients don't get treatment for heart problems

June 3, 2014
Only a third of older breast cancer patients saw a cardiologist within 90 days of developing heart problems, in a study presented at the American Heart Association's Quality of Care and Outcomes Research 2014 Scientific Sessions.

Breast cancer patients receiving Herceptin treatment should be monitored for heart damage at any age

April 19, 2016
Breast cancer patients undergoing treatment with trastuzumab-containing regimens should be monitored for heart damage regardless of age. This is among the findings of a new study from the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, the Institute ...

Drug might help breast cancer patients avoid heart damage

November 11, 2015
Many cancer treatments have a dark side—they can damage the heart. New research suggests this risk might be lowered in women with breast tumors if they take a heart drug as a preventive measure during their cancer care.

Recommended for you

Beetroot juice supplements may help certain heart failure patients

February 22, 2018
Beetroot juice supplements may help enhance exercise capacity in patients with heart failure, according to a new proof-of-concept study. Exercise capacity is a key factor linked to these patients' quality of life and even ...

Heart researchers develop a new, promising imaging technique for cardiac arrhythmias

February 22, 2018
Every five minutes in Germany alone, a person dies of sudden cardiac arrest or fibrillation, the most common cause of death worldwide. This is partly due to the fact that doctors still do not fully understand exactly what ...

Scientists use color-coded tags to discover how heart cells develop

February 22, 2018
UCLA researchers used fluorescent colored proteins to trace how cardiomyocytes—cells in heart muscle that enable it to pump blood—are produced in mouse embryos. The findings could eventually lead to methods for regenerating ...

'Beetroot pill' could help save patients from kidney failure after heart X-ray

February 22, 2018
Beetroot may reduce the risk of kidney failure in patients having a heart x-ray, according to research led by Queen Mary University of London.

Women once considered low risk for heart disease show evidence of previous heart attack scars

February 20, 2018
Women who complain about chest pain often are reassured by their doctors that there is no reason to worry because their angiograms show that the women don't have blockages in the major heart arteries, a primary cause of heart ...

Can your cardiac device be hacked?

February 20, 2018
Medical devices, including cardiovascular implantable electronic devices could be at risk for hacking. In a paper publishing online today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the American College of Cardiology's ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.