Cancer and Your Heart

Cancer therapies such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy and high-dose radiation have helped many patients survive longer.

However, in some cases, these therapies increase your risk for developing heart conditions or increase the severity of existing heart problems.

“When cancer treatment affects your heart and blood vessels, this is known as cardiotoxicity,” says cardio-oncologist Madhulata Reddy, M.D. “It’s important to note that not all cancer therapies cause heart or blood vessel damage.”

Cardiotoxicity risk

“We weigh the risks and benefits of cardiotoxic drugs and check the heart to ensure it can tolerate required cancer therapy, particularly drugs in the anthracycline family,” Dr. Reddy says.

She notes obesity, age, diabetes, smoking and high blood pressure increase the risk for heart damage from certain cancer therapies. Still, highly aggressive cancers and certain types of cancer – blood, breast, kidney or lung cancer – often benefit from treatments that may increase the likelihood for cardiotoxicity.

“The key word is ‘may,’” Dr. Reddy says. “Even if your care team does recommend a potentially cardiotoxic therapy as part of your treatment plan, this doesn’t mean that you will get heart or blood vessel damage.”

Cancer And Your Heart: 6 Ways To Lower Your Risk Of Cardiotoxicity

Oncologists and cardiologists evaluate patients at risk for heart disease or those who have developed cardiotoxicity as a result of cancer treatment.

Woman making a heart shape with her hands

Know the symptoms

While cardiologists and medical oncologists monitor heart function during treatment, cardiotoxic symptoms may not occur until months or years after cancer therapy.

Call your doctor if you experience:

  • Chest pain
  • Worsening cough
  • Trouble breathing
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Leg or ankle swelling

A beat on heart health

“Being physically active can lower the risk of heart disease,” Dr. Reddy says. Manage your weight and stress levels.

Incorporate plenty of vegetables and some fruit in your diet and stop smoking. Continue taking required medications to control blood pressure, diabetes or cholesterol.

After treatment, keep your appointments for follow-up care. Get the recommended screenings for cancer, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood glucose levels and other cardiovascular risk factors.

Learn more about Henry Ford’s Cardio-oncology Program.

Get your personalized Survivorship Care Plan

Make an appointment at a location near you. Call (313) 874-4082

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