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Feb. 19, 2018
This piece is presented by Sanford Health.
Thanks to advancements in cancer treatments and therapies, we have seen significant improvements in survival rates for cancer patients. Unfortunately, those same treatments that kill cancer cells also can affect other parts of the body – even the heart.
Cardiac toxicity, or cardiotoxicity, is damage to the heart by harmful chemicals. Recent guidelines define it as decrease of the heart pumping function and development of heart failure.
As part of cancer treatments, patients may be given chemotherapy drugs or other medications to control their disease. A side effect is that normal cells in and around the heart also can be damaged.
Cancer medications that may cause heart damage include adriamycin, herceptin and radiation therapy.
Certain lifestyle choices also can increase the risk of these medications causing damage to the heart. According to a recent study by Cancer Research UK, smokers treated for breast cancer have much higher risks than nonsmokers of developing lung cancer or heart attack as a result of radiotherapy.
In the 1950s, health care professionals began to realize that medications used to treat breast cancer could affect the heart and create long-term conditions. Some patients already have cardiovascular disease when diagnosed, which can limit the cancer therapy available. Other patients can develop new cardiac problems during cancer treatment.
Efforts were made to organize research to find answers to why this was happening and what could be done to help patients. Cardiologists and oncologists began collaborating once a connection was discovered. But now there is a more formalized approach, called cardio-oncology, resulting in guidelines on how to properly monitor and care for cardiotoxicity in patients.
The ultimate goal of cardio-oncology is to not interrupt or change the specific plan of cancer treatment.
To achieve that goal, the medical staff first needs to have the proper tools to recognize the signs and symptoms of toxicity as early as possible. Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath during exertion, discomfort while lying on the back and swollen ankles.
Next, if evidence of cardiotoxicity is found, medical therapy or lifestyle changes should be started as soon as possible to reduce the risk of damage to the heart. Typically, it is treated the same as heart failure from other causes. Patient may be prescribed medications to thin their blood or that help the heart beat more efficiently.
By focusing on seven key health factors and behaviors — what the American Heart Association calls Life’s Simple 7 — you can help keep your heart healthy.
Unfortunately, those same treatments that kill cancer cells can also affect other parts of the body – even the heart.