What Breast Cancer Patients Need to Know About Their Risk of Heart Disease

Due to better treatment options, the survival rate for breast cancer has increased dramatically in recent years. However, doctors have discovered the very treatments that cause patients to survive breast cancer put them at high risk for heart disease. The purpose of the new specialty of cardio-oncology is to assess the risks of patients undergoing therapies for cancer and find ways to minimize the danger of subsequent heart damage.

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the danger of a coronary event increases by 7.4 percent with each dose of radiation therapy. The radiation inflames the tissue lining of the heart, injures heart fibers and valves, and causes the heart to age abnormally rapidly. Additionally, chemotherapy damages the heart lining and affects the pumping function. Other breast cancer treatments that have adverse effects on the heart include hormonal therapies and other targeted therapies.


Breast cancer treatments, especially to the left breast, are especially heart-hazardous because they occur in such close proximity to the heart. The danger is subtle, as cancer survivors may not manifest symptoms until years or even decades later. However, statistics indicate that among breast cancer survivors over age 65, more than 60 percent die of heart disease.

In cardio-oncology, specialists in heart disease and cancer treatment team up to find methods to continue life-saving cancer therapy without compromising heart safety. They monitor patients during their cancer treatments to assess heart damage. If necessary, they adjust radiation treatments and prescribe heart medications to impede heart deterioration. They also advise the patient on important lifestyle adjustments to mitigate heart disease risk. Cardio-oncology has received the approval of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American College of Cardiology, and its practitioners have formed a professional association called the International Cardioncology Society.

Cardio-ontology offers increased chances of avoiding heart problems in breast cancer survivors. Read this article about techniques that may reduce the danger of heart disease following treatment for breast cancer.

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