Breast Cancer Treatments Seem to Increase Risk of Heart Problems

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Doctors know that several types of breast cancer treatments, including:

  • chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy
  • some hormonal therapy medicines
  • some targeted therapy medicines

may cause heart problems.

A new study suggests that breast cancer treatments may cause changes in body composition and blood pressure that increase the risk of heart problems for survivors.

The study was presented at the 2013 Breast Cancer Symposium on Sept. 10, 2013. Read the abstract of “The impact treatment has on cardiovascular risks factors for breast cancer survivors.”

For this study, the researchers wanted to know if breast cancer treatment affected women’s risk factors for heart problems. If it did, they also wanted to know if the effects varied by type of breast cancer treatment.

So they collected information on several cardiovascular risk factors from 3,674 women who hadn’t been diagnosed with breast cancer and 740 breast cancer survivors at the beginning of their treatment and again when treatment was done and during follow-up:

  • BMI (body mass index)
  • weight
  • resting heart rate
  • blood pressure
  • total body fat
  • lean muscle mass
  • waist size

They split the women who’d been diagnosed with breast cancer into eight groups, depending on the type of treatment they got:

  • only surgery
  • surgery and chemotherapy
  • surgery and radiation therapy
  • surgery and hormonal therapy
  • surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and hormonal therapy
  • surgery, radiation therapy, and hormonal therapy
  • surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy
  • surgery, chemotherapy, and hormonal therapy

The two largest groups were women who had surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and hormonal therapy (243 women) and women who had surgery, radiation therapy, and hormonal therapy (207 women).

There were significant differences between many of the cardiovascular risk factors between the undiagnosed women and the women who’d been treated for breast cancer. This means the differences were likely due to breast cancer treatment and not just because of chance. The risk factors that were different between undiagnosed and treated women were:

  • BMI
  • blood pressure
  • resting heart rate
  • weight
  • lean muscle mass
  • body fat
  • waist size

Women who got the most treatments had risk factor numbers that were the most different from undiagnosed women.

Thanks to better diagnostic tests and treatments, more and more women are living longer after being diagnosed with breast cancer. This study suggests that breast cancer survivors need to talk to their doctors about their risks for heart problems and need regular checks of their blood pressure, BMI/weight, and amount of body fat. Other studies have suggested that breast cancer survivors have a higher risk of diabetes.

If you’ve been done with breast cancer treatment for 2 or more years, you and your doctor need to develop a plan to monitor all the factors that can increase your risk for heart problems and other diseases. There are also things you can do to keep your risk of heart problems as low as it can be. Some of the best ways are a healthy diet and lifestyle:

  • eat a diet low in added sugar and processed foods and rich in vegetables and fruits
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • exercise regularly at a moderate intensity
  • avoid alcohol
  • don’t smoke
  • use relaxation techniques such as meditation to manage your stress levels

You can learn more in the Breastcancer.org Nutrition and Exercise sections.

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