Cardiovascular Changes

Cardiovascular disease and cancer share similar risk factors, including obesity, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and chronic inflammation. Cardiovascular risk factors can be enhanced during cancer treatment and lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in survivors. Cancer survivors, especially those having undergone chemotherapy or radiation therapy, have higher rates of heart disease and stroke.1

Chemotherapy treatments can damage the heart muscle, leading to decreased cardiovascular capacity and increased risk of heart disease. These side effects are more prevalent in children and older patients, in those with pre-existing heart conditions, and those treated with combination therapy.

Common heart conditions that may develop include:

  • Congestive heart failure, a weakening of the heart muscle which may cause shortness of breath, dizziness, and swollen hands or feet
  • Heart disease of the coronary arteries tends to happen more often with radiation to the chest; symptoms are shortness of breath and chest pain
  • Irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia, which might produce light-headedness, chest pain, and shortness of breath
  • High blood pressure or hypertension might occur on its own, or in combination with congestive heart failure2

If you are undergoing cancer treatments that are known to lead to heart problems, there are steps that your healthcare team can take to reduce their impact:

  • Administer a different cancer drug, which may have less risk of causing heart problems
  • Reducing the dose or administering the drug in a different way
  • Dosing with additional drugs that may have a protective effect on the heart

If you do develop a heart problem after cancer treatment, there are many medications that can be prescribed by your doctor to treat or manage it.3

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