Breast cancer therapies, such as chemotherapy and radiation, may damage the heart. Women who are currently being treated for breast cancer or who have been treated for breast cancer in the past should talk to their healthcare team about reducing the risk of heart disease as related to their treatment.
Is a woman who has had breast cancer more likely to die of breast cancer or of a cardiovascular disease, such as heart failure, heart attack or others?
Cardiovascular diseases, such as heart failure, heart attacks and strokes remain the leading cause of death in women, yet many believe breast cancer to be more deadly. Early detection and current treatments for breast cancer means there are increasing numbers of long-term breast cancer survivors, but these survivors also have a greater risk of cardiovascular diseases, in part resulting from the therapies used to treat the cancer.
In the United States, 47.8 million women are afflicted by cardiovascular disease, compared to 3.32 million women who are afflicted by breast cancer.
If some of the chemotherapy drugs and/or radiation treatments cause heart disease, what can be done to reduce the risk of heart disease?
The most common type of heart problem associated with breast cancer therapies is heart failure, where the heart muscle is weakened and cannot pump blood as effectively. While there are no proven treatments to prevent heart failure or other cardiovascular diseases in breast cancer patients, there are several promising treatments that have been explored in small studies.
Healthcare providers should monitor a woman’s heart before, during and after breast cancer treatment. The type of monitoring or surveillance depends on the type of breast cancer treatment being used. Using medications commonly used to treat heart failure, such as beta blockers, are recommended if the heart muscle weakens. Some studies also suggest that administering common chemotherapy agents using different methods, may reduce the related risks to heart disease. For example, when the chemotherapy agent doxorubicin is administered over a longer period of time, rather than at a faster rate, patients may have a lower risk of heart failure.
Before any of these treatments can be recommended, more large-scale studies will need to be done to confirm whether the results of the smaller studies are valid.
Do breast cancer and heart disease share many of the same risk factors?
Yes – older age, onset of menopause, low-quality diets, family history, hormone replacement therapy, obesity, lack of sufficient physical activity, alcohol and tobacco use increase the risk of both breast cancer and diseases of the heart and blood vessels.
While there is nothing you can do about your age or family history, following Life’s Simple 7 — seven steps people can take to reduce the risk of heart disease – may also help reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Source: The American Heart Association