August 01, 2018


Cancer and the heart

With a diagnosis of cancer, your health concerns appropriately zero in on cancer management and treatment. However, having a cancer diagnosis doesn't mean the risks related to other conditions, including heart disease, go away. Moreover, some types of cancer and cancer treatments are hard on the heart and possibly even damaging. This can contribute to new heart problems — or worsen existing heart disease.

The emerging need to consider heart disease in the midst of having cancer is being increasingly recognized which is in some ways a good sign. More people, including many older adults, are being successfully treated and are surviving cancer.

This changing landscape has led to the emergence of a new medical specialty area called cardio-oncology. This includes teams of experts that navigate the often complicated interplay between these two common diseases and can help guide decisions before, during and after cancer therapy. The goal is that a person being treated now for cancer doesn't become a person being treated for heart disease down the road.

Toxic effects

In order to kill cancer cells, cancer therapy typically inflicts collateral damage on healthy cells in the body. Even though hair loss, gastrointestinal issues or other side effects can occur, the hope is that damage to healthy cells is temporary or reversible, while destruction of cancer cells is long lasting.

Not all cancer therapies impact the heart, but some chemotherapy is toxic to heart cells or blood vessels. Chemotherapy drugs are divided into categories of risk level in terms of toxicity to the heart or blood vessels. They're also divided by whether the effects are likely to be permanent or reversible, or whether the effects occur fairly early in treatment or later on.

Pre-existing conditions — such...