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Breast Cancer Treatment & Heart Health


Breast cancer treatments can increase your risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) issued a scientific statement in 2020. Understanding the links between the two is vital. While pink (breast cancer) and red (heart health) are distinguished every year through campaigns educating women about these diseases, most know very little about how the two intersect.


According, to the CDC heart disease, is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S. The AHA categorized the two diseases as overlapping, citing that heart disease is a complication of breast cancer treatment.


The connection between the two has its place in cancer treatments (chemo and radiation). Studies show certain types of chemotherapy drugs commonly used may cause damage to the heart. One drug is anthracycline doxorubicin. While it is deemed quite effective at binding quickly replicating cancer cells. The anthracyclines can cause irreversible damage to the heart. Another drug is trastuzumab.


There are also concerns about radiation when involving the left breast or chest wall and its impact on the heart. Noting that radiation "can lead to blocked heart arteries, heart valve issues, and abnormal heart rhythms in some patients". Age is also a factor. Younger women treated for breast cancer tend to have less of a problem than women over 60 years of age. Older women with comorbidities (high blood pressure, diabetes) or a history of heart disease tend to have more complications and require risk assessments via their oncologist regarding targeted therapy approaches and heart health.


The good news is a later study (2021), found that those suffering from heart failure induced by chemotherapy tend to fare better than those who had not had chemotherapy but did have heart failure. It further revealed that older women (bc survivors) taking cholesterol reducing drugs (Statins) did not develop heart failure. Exercise and diet are at the top of the list of recommendations by AHA for both diseases, not only for prevention but also for survivorship.


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