Along with surgery, treatments such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and hormonal therapy make breast cancer a treatable disease. Because these treatments have unavoidable effects on healthy, normal cells as well as cancer cells, there are pros and cons associated with each one. Some of the undesirable side effects may include damage to the heart. This is why these treatments are used with caution and care.
Some of the improvements in cancer care are because existing treatments are being used in new, better, and safer ways. For example, new radiation therapy techniques and computer technology now make it possible to dramatically minimize unintended exposure of healthy tissue -- such as the heart -- to radiation that is treating cancer. Even so, each treatment mentioned above can affect the heart in one way or another and increase the risk for heart disease later in life.
Maintaining a "heart healthy" lifestyle is important for everyone. But it's especially important if you're being treated for breast cancer. You can't change the fact that you needed treatment. But you can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by changing factors you can control:
- Eat a diet low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise (moderately strenuous) regularly.
- Don't smoke and avoid alcohol.
- Monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, and stick to any treatments your doctor prescribes for these conditions.
- If you have diabetes, work with your doctor to manage your condition in the best way possible.
These steps aren't just heart healthy; they also can help reduce your risk of the cancer coming back.
It's also very important that you regularly see a doctor who is familiar with your breast cancer treatment history and understands your special risks. Together, you can come up with a counseling, monitoring, and screening plan that takes into account any possible complications from earlier treatment.