Cancer Treatment and the Effects on the Heart
For patients with cancer, treatment focuses on destroying the cancerous cells that are in your body. However, some treatments can affect healthy cells, which can then affect your organs, like your heart. Your doctor may discuss possible treatment side effects and how it could affect your heart.
Cancer and the Heart
“Certain cancer treatments can lead to damage to the cardiovascular system,” explains Kashif Firozvi, MD, medical director at White Oak Cancer Center. “Your physician may suggest undergoing testing on your heart before, during and at the end of your treatment to understand any changes that may have occurred,” he adds. Testing prior to treatment is important so your doctors have a base line and can track to make sure nothing worsens, and if it does, treat the condition.
Adrian Dyer, MD, family medicine physician with Adventist Medical Group shares, “some cancer patients like children, women and adults over the age of 60, may be more at risk than others and require special attention to their heart.” Dr. Dyer adds, “those who smoke, suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and pre-existing heart problems can all be at a higher risk for cardiotoxic events.” According to the National Cancer Institute, within five years of treatment, people who are treated for lymphoma or breast cancer are three times as likely to develop heart failure as people who never had cancer.
If you receive any of the treatments listed below, talk with your doctor about possible cardiotoxic side effects and how to be proactive in treating them.
- Anthracyclines (chemotherapy)
- Trastuzumab and other Her-2 targeted therapies (treatment for breast cancer)
- Checkpoint inhibitors for immunotherapy
- High-dose chest radiation
- Some targeted therapies
Even if you don’t have any of these risk factors, it’s important to be aware of your heart and how cancer treatments can affect it. Catching any cardiac problems early is key to treating and monitoring them.
“While treatments are getting more effective and safer, there are some rare, unique side effects that can impact your heart. It is really important to talk to your doctor about risk factors and symptoms you may be experiencing during and after treatment,” says Dr. Firozvi.
Types of Heart Conditions
There are several heart conditions that are more common for cancer patients and survivors. Therefore, it is important to regularly monitor your heart so if there are any changes, they can be addressed early and quickly. Some conditions include:
- Congestive Heart Failure
- Coronary artery disease
- Changes to heart valves
- Pericardium problems
Stay Heart Healthy During Treatment
One of the best ways to help keep your heart healthy while you’re undergoing cancer treatment is to make healthy lifestyle choices. While this is important for everyone’s heart health, it’s especially important to cancer patients. Live a healthy lifestyle by:
- Getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly
- Making good, healthy food choices
- Maintaining a healthy weight by eating well and exercising
- Avoiding things that cause stress
- Quitting smoking
- Getting enough sleep each night
Talk with your doctor about your treatment, how it might affect your heart and what steps you should take to limit changes to your heart.
"Careful coordination of care between your primary care provider and your team of specialists will be key to addressing potential complications before they arise," explains Dr. Dyer.